I feel like I may well start sounding like a broken record if I carry on talking like this. That said, I’m willing to take the risk because this shit’s important. Like really important. So buckle up kids, she’s going in for it.
WE HAVE TO STOP DISCRIMINATING AGAINST EMOTIONS.
Before your mouse moves to the little cross in the corner thinking, what an earth is this woman on about, give me the grace of a couple of lines. Just a couple, I promise, it’s worth it.
We need to talk about the British stiff upper lip. Like really talk about.
Since I started on this wiggly old path of self improvement, I’ve come into much closer contact with a lot of emotions than I had for pretty much the entire of the rest of my existence on this planet. I’ve cried, a lot. I’ve screamed into pillows. I’ve punched pillows. I’ve laughed hysterically. I’ve danced in ecstasy. Sometimes, I’ve done all of these things within the space of 24 hours.
Now, tell me, honestly — what is your reaction to me telling you about my tears? about my anger? Let me ask you this… is there resistance to it? Do you think for a second ‘oh, no, is she ok?’ or a ‘she’s lost the plot’, or ‘wow this is intense’? If you do, can I ask you…why?
If someone had asked me the same question about 3 years ago, I probably would have said yes, yes and yes. I was chronically unemotional. To be honest, I wore it a little bit like a badge of honour. Somehow, I think I thought I was ‘strong’ because I never cried. I thought I was strong because I was always cool, calm and collected. Always moderated in my responses. Unflappable. It became part of my identity in a way, I liked the fact that I believed nothing could ever harm me, that I could walk through flames and come out unscathed. I felt strong. I felt in control. The reality though, was that I was gravely out of touch with myself and chose only to show the ‘positive’ emotions because those were the ones that people liked to be around.
Why is it we only like to be around joy? Why is it that we fetishise happiness? Why is it that people feel they have to cry in private but have no issue with laughing in public? Is it because that’s just what we do, or is it because we subconsciously believe that joy and laughter are ‘attractive’ and sadness and grief are ‘unattractive’? That an expression of joy is ‘positive’ whilst an expression of sadness is ‘negative’? I’ll ask you this, why? Why do you choose to believe this?
Let’s take a little look at what an emotion actually is.. the word emotion comes from the latin ‘emotere’ which literally means energy in motion. That’s what an emotion is, energy in motion. Sometimes, if you get quiet enough, you might be able to sense that that’s what it is. The tingling in the chest, the heaviness in the pit of the stomach, the lump in the throat — all just examples of the ways in which energy moves through the body in the form of emotion. Only when we put labels on this movement of energy, such as sadness or happiness do they become feelings with their associated positive and negative labels.
For those of you holding on to your stiff upper lip— listen to this.. the parts of the brain which manage our emotions are actually considered to have executive power over the brain. As in, they are actually more powerful than the logical side you hold so tightly to. They strongly influence decision making, thought processes, memories and our experience of the present moment. Because of this, our ability to healthily manage emotional energy is vital in our pursuit of wellbeing, as well as in our pursuit of being able to exist effectively in the world. The more we suppress this energy in motion, or only allow certain types of energy in emotion to be expressed, the more likely we are to suffer from chronic stress and the associated stress related illnesses. Chronic stress is, in fact, a symptom of built up emotional energy in the body.
Humans are built to emote. It is a beautiful part of the body’s design. The expression of emotion allows the body to come back to homeostasis and to come back to a place of peace and rest. The more we suppress certain forms of emotion, the more we are suffocating ourselves from the peace which we are all so desperately craving. Crying, in fact, is so wonderful that it releases oxytocin and endogenous opioids which in turn soothe the nervous system and basically make us feel better. We cry for a reason. We are built to cry for a reason: we need to stop coddling tears and allow them to flow in the way they are designed. Our bodies ask us to e-mote for a reason, because it keeps us healthy. We have to stop ignoring what our bodies are asking of us and start to notice what it is we feel, and allow that emotion to be expressed in a healthy way. We have to allow this energy to flow.
I became interested in the idea that we could suppress emotion when I first experienced circular breathwork (which I subsequently trained in). Breathing in a specific way for extended periods of time strangely enough brings us into close contact with repressed emotional content (another smart thing our body does). What I mean by this is that through breathwork, I came in very close contact with a tonne of fear, grief, sadness, joy and anger that I had no idea I was harbouring inside. Like no idea. One minute I was lying on the mat breathing away, the next I was screaming into a pillow. As I said, I thought I was chronically unemotional, well I’ll tell you this: nobody is chronically unemotional. Not. One. Person. Nobody naturally has a stiff upper lip. What we have is a society filled with people who have suppressed so much of their emotional content that our bodies are bursting at the seams. Stress related illnesses are rife and seem to be increasing in number by the day, we’re on the verge of the worst mental health crisis we’ve probably ever faced and we are STILL telling people to wipe away their tears because…. ‘oh, please don’t cry, it makes me sad when you cry’.
Let me reframe this: please do cry. please cry as much as you need to. please scream. please grab a pillow and scream into it as loudly as you need to. please get angry, take a pillow and punch it as hard as you need to. please. all I’m asking is that you allow your bodies innate wisdom to DO ITS THING and stop overriding it just because someone, somewhere who has nothing to do with your life or your health decided that it would be better if we stopped crying so much and created a narrative around crying being a ‘bad’ thing which in turn became a socially accepted truth. We desperately need to encourage the healthy expression of all emotion, every last drop of it. Welcome it all. Energy in motion is not positive or negative, it just is and we should allow it to be that way.
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Everything felt infused with irritation. I was doing all the things for everyone else that I thought I should be doing. I was doing all the acts of service. I was, technically, loving those people. And yet. It felt like every act I did, rather than being infused with love, was infused with a shards of glass shooting out of every plate I stacked.
It was a Thursday back in February 2018. The rain hadn’t stopped for months and London was right in the depths of what felt like the longest winter we’d ever had. The dark, damp days had started to getting to me so I’d taken refuge in a hot yoga class to warm up. The scent of palo santo blended with the sweat of 50 people pervaded the room. It was bonus day at work. They’d told us it had been a bad year and not to expect much. I peaked into the envelope, hopeful, as soon as they slid it across the table: £130k. But there I lay, in savasana, with hot, salty tears streaming down my face: I’d never felt emptier.
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