Emotional Self-CareBy Sara Joy David, Ph.D.
Published in HEALTH SCIENCE, Tampa, Florida
Feelings are messengers seeking to communicate vitally important information about what we want and need.
Mastery of the principles of emotional well-being can assure an easier experience for anyone about to adopt the principles that are required for optimal physical health. Yet this part of living a healthful lifestyle is often overlooked.
It has been my great joy and privilege to delve deeply into this subject over many years. The journey into myself, my own emotions, and those shared by the numerous individuals who have worked with me, individually and in workshops , has provided a wealth of information to share.
There are laws and principles of emotional well-being that are as simple, reliable,and universal as those governing sound nutrition. The challenge that we all face is that the vast majority of us have been conditioned to abandon these principles and to replace them with detrimental practices such as excessive emotional control.The many erroneous attitudes and belief systems that have been substituted for emotional truth are as certain to limit us, or even torment us emotionally, as eating unhealthful foods, breathing toxic air, getting insufficient sun, and/or exercising inadequately are certain to damage us physically.
Willingness to feelLet us examine some of these universal principles to clarify the task of emotional self-care. First, and foremost, we must be willing to feel. Our feelings are allies, messengers seeking to communicate vitally important information about what we want and need. However, much of our childhood is spent learning to control our feelings, which are eventually distorted, stifled, or denied until we are left feeling numb. Therefore, our first step must be to reclaim the right to feel and to express emotions. This means tuning into them, increasing our awareness of and acceptance of them and all their nuances. When our feelings are judged or criticized (by ourselves or others), we lack the sense of safety to permit them to surface. Welcoming feelings, and becoming curious about what messages they offer, creates the safety for them to come forward.
Expressing our feelingsThe second step is to learn to express these feelings in appropriate ways. We must learn to release feelings rather than being ruled by them or using them to manipulate others.There is always a feeling of relief and peace when an emotion has been completely discharged. The energy formerly bound up is transformed and available for more fulfilling new experiences. If there is residual discomfort or tension after crying or getting angry, it is a clue that the feeling has not been expressed in its full intensity, or that some displacement has occurred, leading to an unsuccessful attempt to substitute a secondary feeling for the primary or core feeling that has become more difficult to deal with.
Stifled feelingsIf children are taught to stifle all feelings, there is sometimes a further communication that some feelings are even more abhorrent than others. For examples, many boys are taught to believe that crying is the least acceptable of all emotions; many girls are told that anger is the least acceptable emotion for them to express. Thus, when crying does not provide relief, there may be underlying anger in need of expression. Similarly, when getting angry does not restore equilibrium, there may be underlying sadness to face. Expressing secondary feelings dramatizes and entrenches them. It is only the expression of the primary feeling that restores emotional equilibrium.
Stifled feelings do not simply disappear. They are stored in the body by the tightening of muscles, some part of the body moving out of alignment, or the holding of breath or more shallow breathing. Contained feelings become toxic. The tension and strain required to bind emotional energy impacts all bodily functions, including digestion and elimination. When situations occur that remind us of past moments when we felt fear or pain and stifled them, we are restimulated. There is a snowball effect, and each new, similar experience heightens the intensity of the feelings induced. The reason for this is that the earlier, unexpressed feelings attach themselves to the current ones in an increasingly urgent effort to break free. Meanwhile, the erroneous beliefs associated with not deciphering the true message the feelings were seeking to deliver are further entrenched rather than corrected.
This is the core dynamic beneath most addictive behavior. Conditioned fear of emotions leads some people to drown them with alcohol, some to send them up in smoke, some to stuff them down with food, some to fill their time with compulsive and excessive activity. There is an inner wisdom that is well aware that if we pause, still our minds, ingest only nourishing foods, breathe more deeply, spend time only in healthful environments, including, as often as possible, being with supportive others, there will be a temporary flood of stored emotions. When we are ready to say "yes" to such a clearing of our emotional closets, we seek to create rather than to avoid the conditions conducive to such emotional cleansing. Then, applying the principles of physical self-care becomes both simple and obvious, as the need to resist has been removed. Instead of dreading these held feelings, let us welcome them with gratitude and excitement. Let us free our energy so as to open ourselves to more gentle, joyful, loving emotions.
Positive self-talkLanguage and thought can inhibit or facilitate emotional expression. When words are used only to describe or label a feeling, no movement or transformation takes place. These are strictly mental activities that delay release. When naming the feeling is combined with enthusiastic, encouraging self-talk, successful emotional release is assured. When naming any feeling, it is important to avoid prefacing a statement with the phrase,"I am..." since that would imply a lasting or abiding state of affairs. Stating "I feel angry, sad, frightened, frustrated, disappointed, trapped, numb, etc. enables us to communicate a current, temporary state and to let it go rather than to perpetuate it.
Examples of liberating self-talk are: "I am willing to feel these feelings in their full intensity." "I make wise choices about where, how, and with whom to share my feelings." "Accepting and expressing my feelings completely and appropriately will increase my creativity." "It is safe to let go emotionally." "My feelings inform me about the changes I want to make in order to live a more effective, fuffilling life."
Deeper intimacyLearning to let go of stored emotions opens the doors to deeper intimacy. It restores choice and invites more positive life events. It allows us to perceive experiences differently, which assures new emotional responses of a more empowering kind. This can be a delightful adventure. The same situations once experienced as "crises" now become opportunities to take full responsibility (without blame, shame, or judgment) for our feelings, how they are expressed, and the impact they have.
Taking responsibility for our feelings means that the sole purpose of expressing them is to restore equilibrium and a sense of freedom and choice. Others close to us may become witnesses and allies instead of rescuers seeking to give us advice or antagonists interfering with our process.
Choosing wiselyNegative feelings do not have to be such a big deal. We do not have to build monuments to our mistakes. We can view these unpleasant feelings as signals that point us away from attitudes, behaviors, and circumstances that did not, do not, and never will suit us, toward what we do want.
Joy, enthusiasm, excitement, delight, serenity, ecstasy are the natural state once painful or limiting feelings have been faced and released. Ending denial and resistance restores emotional wellness. Then we can have it all! We can be all that we were created to be. We can then enjoy ourselves every step of our journey. We need only be willing. We need only be open to learning and applying universal laws.