Emotion. It can be many things. Emotion is joy, celebratory, excited, happy, peaceful, love. Yes, emotion is all of this. But what happens when emotion is deep? Or painful? What happens when emotions break past your threshold of tolerance and penetrate your very soul? What happens when emotions break us? What happens when you are flooded with too many emotions to decipher them? What happens when emotions overwhelm you? What about negative emotions such as anger, sadness, grief, disgust, or hurt? What is the emotional experience when there are combinations of emotions? This is real life in living color. Life is not black and white, life is filled with neon colored emotions that often blind us from their boldness and paralyze us right where we stand. This paralyzing experience is anxiety of emotion.

Emotions are universal. Emotions make you human. But if this is true then why do we fear the expression of or the experience of emotions? Why do we fear talking about emotions or letting other people see our true neon colors? Emotions are complex and perplexing and yet if we would allow ourselves to accept that we are emotional beings in community with other emotional beings, how different would our world look and feel? How would that change human interactions? Stop for a minute and ask yourself…. If I gave myself permission to sit in my current circumstances to feel the true depth of my emotions what would that experience be like?

Western culture has shaped this anxiety of emotion by personifying emotional expression as weakness. We have all heard the term “sissy” or “cry baby” or “girly-man” or “emotional wreck.” What about terms like “too sensitive” or “get a back bone.” Men are characterized as “strong…rocks…rational…” and women are characterized as “tough…holding the fort down…” when they resist displaying their emotions. Society has taught us to fear (to be anxious of) displaying our emotions. As a culture we do not even allow time off from work and life to grieve the death of an immediate family member. Emotion is interpreted as bad for so many of us.

What is the result of emotional suppression? It is not health or happiness that much I can assure you. Emotional suppression is a great deal of mental illness, including anxiety, depression, and anger.

One time I was at the grocery store and the cashier asked the typical question, “How are you?” I responded with the expected answer, “I’m good, how are you?” The cashier responded very unexpectedly… “I’m not good today.” After taking a second to wrap my brain around the unexpected I entered counselor mode, noting there was no one in line behind me. She went on to explain a very difficult situation she was going through in college with a best friend that included betrayal, grief that a friendship was lost, and depression from loneliness. As I processed that experience on my drive home I realized how I have never had a stranger be so bold in embracing negative emotions. This girl had no mask of happiness that said, “I’m good!” … this girl was embracing her emotional side and rightfully so, she was hurting! At the end of our brief conversation she thanked me and said she felt better just getting that off her chest and not holding that inside any longer. EMOTIONAL RELEASE. The very action that created relief and healing is the same action that creates anxiety of emotion. The irony is strong here. By holding in negative emotions that we are made to experience and release, we add one more paralyzing emotion (like the cherry on top of a sundae)… ANXIETY. Anxiety makes us feel like we have lost control of ourselves making emotional regulation all the more difficult.

We are ALL created with an array of emotions that are intentional and purposeful. If you’ve never seen the movie Inside Out it is a fantastic place to start helping you think about, identify, and understand emotions.

CHALLENGE: I was so moved by the bravery and instant release of anger, hurt, pain, sadness, and anxiety this young lady experienced by simply being honest in her answer to “How are you doing?” I want to challenge you to release your emotions. Write yourself a permission slip:We are emotional beings created and designed to be emotional. Avoidance of our own design confuses and complicates our existence.

A short side note: Scripture tells us there is a time and season for all things, including a variety of emotions. Life is expected to be complex and so God created you with a complex emotional system to thrive through life. Emotions are Tools for Success!

Ecclesiastes 3:2-8

A Time for Everything For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

Stewart’s Gift Counseling