Our society has discouraged showing emotions, especially for men, for as long as we can remember. Throughout history, there may have been a time and place for that. But, like anything else, we must ask ourselves if this still works for us.
Emotional intelligence is our internal guidance system; when we hide, ignore, or numb feelings and emotions, we lose our way. We make choices based on external stimuli or past experiences that may not be relevant or helpful for us anymore. In a sense, we’re handing our power over to something outside of ourselves instead of being in the driver’s seat. What if you asked Siri for a grocery store in Newport and didn’t pay attention to the fact that it’s taking you to Newport, Massachusetts, instead of Newport Beach, California? You zone out, mindlessly following Siri, and wake up on the wrong coast. You shrug your shoulders and say, “Well, Siri told me to go this way.” When we ignore our feelings and emotions, that’s essentially what we’re doing. We hand over our power to something external to choose for us and then wonder why we’re not living the life we intended.
Emotional triggers, whether sadness, anger, jealousy, or frustration, are essential cues from our internal guidance system and shouldn’t be ignored. The first step is cultivating emotional intelligence, which, simply, is awareness of what we're feeling. “Wow, I’m really angry now. I should take a minute to explore why.” The real reason for anger often has nothing to do with the current situation. Instead, the current situation is poking an old wound from the past that needs to be healed. If we don't take the time to get curious about the origin of the emotion, we might make a choice that will veer us off course.
When we ignore, hide, or numb negative emotions, it also stifles positive ones. Feelings of happiness, joy, and peace tell us we're headed in the right direction. Joseph Campbell said all we need to do to find our way in life is to "follow our bliss," but if we’re numbing out negative emotions with booze, weed, food, Netflix, etc., we won't know what our bliss is. Feeling the spectrum of emotions offers us contrast, helping us discern what brings us joy and what we want more of in our lives. We equate numbing, or not feeling sad or angry, with “good,” but is it really? Are we setting the bar that low?
By allowing ourselves to truly feel the full spectrum of emotions, and cultivating awareness around them (emotional intelligence) without judgment, we are tapping into our innate guidance system.
So why does our society encourage us to “not be emotional?” When we’re numbed out and are not paying attention to our internal guidance system, we’re easier to control. We allow others to choose for us. We give our power away. We essentially say, “I’m not paying attention to my emotions, so I don’t know what makes me happy, so you tell me. You say buying that car will make me happy, so I’ll try that.” And maybe that car will fulfill you and truly make you happy, but only if you’re making a choice consciously and not merely trying to fill a void. Cultivating awareness and actively choosing based on what your internal guidance system is telling you helps you navigate your life's journey and end up where you want to go.
I encourage you to get curious and pay attention to the emotions you feel throughout your day and how you deal with them. Are you truly listening to their message with the respect that they deserve or are you shoving them down, numbing out, or distracting yourself from them? If so, don’t judge, just ask yourself why. Why are you not comfortable with that emotion? What would happen if you sat with it and felt it for a minute? What message might it have for you? What if it’s just energy and wants to be seen, felt, and allowed to flow through and released?
Carry a journal around with you for a couple of weeks or a month and write in the journal every time an emotion pops up to get your attention. Ask yourself the questions above and get curious. At the end of the month, you’ll have a very different perspective of your feelings and emotions. You can then make more empowered choices that will lead you to your desired destination in life.