Someone once described me in high school as “The Girl Who Cried All The Time.” This is not really the legacy you hope for, but in all fairness the statement was quite accurate.
Growing up with anxiety caused me for many years to bury the emotions I felt, because the idea of dealing with them was too overwhelming. If you suffer with anxiety or depression, you might be able to relate.
I’ve heard it said that you can’t bury emotions, because when you do, you always bury them alive. It’s true — whether it’s anger, fear, or sadness, they’re going to come out whether you like it or not, and usually we spill onto the people closest to us, who we love.
I love the illustration of a jug when thinking of emotions.
Imagine the jug has a lid that sits right at our collarbone and the bottom of the jug is somewhere near our belly button. When we have grown up not being able to express our emotions, because we were told they were “bad” or we were “too much,” it can cause us to lock our emotions deep down — or, to put a lid right onto the jug so that they never get out.
Sometimes we say things like, “I will never let anyone see me cry again.” These kinds of “never” statements are really dangerous. It’s like they set something in motion in our lives and before we know it, we can’t remember the last time we’ve cried, even though we really need to have a good sob.
I think emotions are actually a really good thing, but I also believe that they can’t always lead the way.
The reason visualizing a jug can be so helpful is because when we put the lid on, it’s not just the bad emotions that get locked in; it’s also the good ones that get locked out. Often we say things like, “I wish I could feel something other than grief” or “I would rather feel anything but this.” Because we’ve locked that lid, those negative emotions just sit and rot in the bottom of our jug.
I think emotions are actually a really good thing, but I also believe that they can’t always lead the way. When our emotions are on lock down, situations can feel bigger, harder, and even more painful because they’re still raw and alive. It’s like having a wound that hasn’t healed and every time an event or person pushes against that wound, those old feelings feel like they’re brand new again.
One of my favourite authors who talks about this area is Dr. Caroline Leaf. She helps us re-wire our brains so that the negative thoughts can be replaced by good, and I’m telling you, it works. She says that “If we allow ourselves to learn and operate in fear, it creates chaos and havoc in our brains.” I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of chaos!
So what can we do? How can we begin to process our emotions in a healthy way?
Sometimes we just need to acknowledge that we’ve shut down, locked down and tightened that lid, but that we want something different for our lives. I always imagine undoing that lid, taking a deep breath, and dumping out all the yuck and cleaning out the jug.
2. Empty the Jug
Depending on the emotion, this might look very different.
Let’s take anger for example. You might just need to get in your car, roll up the windows and yell. Some people like physical labour (i.e. cutting wood), some need to write it out in a letter that’s never sent, or some might even tear up an old phonebook! (Do you remember those? Now they have a use again).
You can start by saying “I’m angry because…” and just see what comes out. You might be surprised how old those emotions are. If it’s unprocessed grief, you might just need to give yourself permission to cry.
Something I once did was purchase a really beautiful card and actually addressed it to myself. I just needed to process some disappointment and wrote about hope. I sealed it up, and about 6 months later, I read it. It brought so much hope and joy to my heart. Dr. Leaf says, “Constantly remind yourself that although you cannot control how people act towards you or what will happen in your life, you can choose not to act or react negatively.”
3. Out with the Old, In with the New
It’s important to not let emotions fester and to not only deal with them as soon as you’re able, but also to allow the emotions you are desiring the space in your heart and life.
When we’ve lived a life of disappointment and anger, it can be very familiar to always be disappointed and angry. You might need to make conscious decisions to choose the opposite, like hope and joy!
I have been free from anxiety and depression for nearly 5 years and choosing joy has been a daily decision — and sometimes a hard one. It has not been an easy journey — it’s been challenging, painful and sometimes discouraging, but I know that there is hope.
As Dr. Leaf expresses, “The thought you are thinking right now is impacting every one of the 75-100 trillion cells of your body at quantum speed.” Every moment, we have a choice. We could choose to sit and dwell on the negative, or push through and focus on what is good!
If you’re tired of ‘leaking’ on the ones you love, or feeling like you just need to feel something different, can we challenge each other today to live a life of real emotions, so that we can not only be Free Women, but authentic ones at that.
– Photo credit: Joe Gardner