We have a lot of misconceptions about our emotions, especially around when it’s okay to feel them and when it’s not.
These beliefs limit our ability to comfortably navigate our relationships because they deprive us of our authentic emotional experience, and so we come to the interpersonal table without an essential part of ourselves.
These emotional filters can be so broad, and run so deep, that they invalidate not just the feelings themselves, but also who we are -- the person who feels them.
This dynamic is not necessarily our fault -- we’ve been conditioned not to allow ourselves our emotions -- but the responsibility for our experience does ultimately lie with us.
We can reclaim this part of ourselves by setting the record straight about the true nature of our emotions and by coming to a new agreement with ourselves about when it’s okay -- safe, secure, and even necessary -- to acknowledge, honor, and express them.
Here are 13 essential truths that will help us do just that:
1. We never have to justify attending to our feelings, even if it makes someone else uncomfortable when we do.
Other people can and do feel threatened when we choose to focus our time, energy, and attention on our own emotional needs. Maybe they fear we’ll no longer be able to meet their needs, or they’ve so bought into the idea that they’re not allowed to give themselves this same attention that they attempt to deprive us of it.
Whatever the reason, and whatever reaction we may face, we never have to justify taking care of ourselves.
Our emotions are ours, and ours alone. We feel them, and then we take care of them. This is the way our relationship with ourselves is supposed to work. Emotion, attendance, emotion, attendance.
If someone has feelings about the fact that we’re focused on our feelings, they are welcome to attend to themselves in the same way that we are.
2. We never have to justify that we have feelings in the first place, even if that fact makes someone else uncomfortable.
We are emotional beings. We’re going to naturally feel a certain way about our lives, the people in them, and the situations and circumstances we face. We never have to justify that these feelings exist -- they’re what make us human.
To defend ourselves would be like water justifying that it’s wet or a flower justifying the color of its petals. Our emotional experience is self-evident. We don’t choose it, it just is.
If someone feels that we aren’t entitled to our emotions, then that’s too bad for them.
Because to deny that our emotions exist is to deny that we exist, and neither fact is one we’re willing to debate anymore.
3. We never have to justify why we’re feeling some feelings today, even if we know we’ll feel different feelings tomorrow.
Emotions are mutable, fluid. Defending our current emotional state compared to what it will be in the future suggests that it’s not okay for it to change. But it does, and it will. Our only task is to honor and embrace whatever we feel moment to moment.
4. We don't always have to be able to explain why we feel the way that we do.
When we can’t easily come up with a specific, conscious, identifiable reason we feel a certain way, we hunt for clues that we can use to construct a logical narrative about our experience.
But to reason out our emotions is, at some level, to try to explain the unexplainable.
Sometimes our feelings just don’t make sense -- and we don’t need them to. We can learn to be comfortable with the not knowing instead.
Because attempting to rationalize our feelings diminishes our ability to attend to them. Instead of experiencing them in a direct and intimate way, we analyze them from a distance.
We remain squarely in our heads when we need to be in our hearts.
5. We can allow ourselves our authentic emotional experience even if no one else accepts or understands it.
We don’t need anyone else’s permission, agreement, or approval to feel the way that we do. Even if not one other person affirms us, we can still give ourselves the presence and grace to allow ourselves our emotions anyway. We are the only ones whose permission we need.
6. It’s okay to tell other people how we really feel instead of coming up with a convenient excuse we think they’ll more readily accept.
We hide our emotional truth when we fear someone else will reject it. We may think there’s no harm done here -- because our nonadmission hasn’t necessarily hurt the other person -- but we hurt ourselves when we negate our emotional experience and alienate ourselves from it in this way.
7. It’s okay to feel all of our feelings -- even the ones that are uncomfortable or that overwhelm us.
Sometimes we reject our feelings because we just don’t know what to do what them. They cause us so much pain and discomfort, we can’t imagine experiencing them up close.
It’s okay to recoil from emotions like these -- sometimes they are a lot to handle.
But all our emotions really want from us is our attention, and turning to face them -- even if we need some help doing so -- is the surest way for us not to experience them as intensely moving forward.
8. Emotions are impermanent.
Whatever we’re feeling now won’t last forever -- or even for very long. Because what’s here in this moment may be gone the next, being present with ourselves is a crucial component of our ability to tune in to (and attend to) our emotional experience.
Knowing that emotions are impermanent also offers some comfort when we’re in the throes of an unpleasant or upsetting experience. It’ll be over soon enough, and we don’t need to take it any more seriously than the awareness that we’re feeling a feeling (however intense it might be).
9. There are no “good” or “bad” feelings.
“Good” and “bad” are the oldest judgments in the book. When we categorize our feelings one way or the other, we convey that some emotions are okay to feel and others are not. We deny ourselves roughly half of our emotional experience when we do, and set up a dynamic where we chase the “good” feelings and resist the “bad” ones.
What we don’t realize is that most of the discomfort we have about feeling the “bad” feelings comes from the fact that we’ve labeled them this way in the first place. When we separate our actual experience of these feelings from the judgments we have about them, we won’t feel them as painfully. Instead we’ll accept our emotional state just the way it is, as enough -- and we won’t expect it to be any other way.
10. There are no "right" or "wrong" feelings.
All emotions are valid.
All emotions are valid.
If we’re feeling something, it’s valid. Human beings are too complex for our natural responses to always align with an objective understanding of what’s going on, and we’re not “wrong” to feel the way we do just because it conflicts with this notion of what our response should be.
11. Our emotions need no defense beyond an affirmation of them.
We’re upset because we’re upset. We’re afraid because we’re afraid. We’re happy because we’re happy.
End of story.
12. It's okay to stop attending to someone else’s emotions so that we can honor our own, even if the other person may not like that very much.
Sometimes we attend to other people’s emotional needs instead of our own.
We typically do this when we think our safety, security, value, or our ability to receive love depends on it. We prioritize managing another person’s emotional state in order to ensure ourselves a sort of survival on these terms.
As difficult as it may be to extricate ourselves from situations like these due to the base fear that we won’t be safe doing so, learning to meet these needs ourselves is the only way we’ll feel completely safe and secure in ourselves long-term.
13. We never need to apologize for our feelings or the fact that we’re attending to them, even if that makes someone else uncomfortable.
We cannot more definitively state that we’re not entitled our emotions than when we apologize for them.
Saying sorry suggests our feelings have somehow imposed on someone else. But allowing ourselves to feel the way we feel and taking care of ourselves as we do is the only way we’ll be in a strong enough place to love and support another human being in the first place.
If another person would make us feel guilty about this, they simply don’t understand that we won’t be of any real use to them if we’re struggling under the accumulated weight of our own emotional burden.