Everyone experiences emotions every day, every hour and every second. It is essential to know what we are feeling, how it affects our lives, and how to deal with emotions. Most probably, the first thought that comes to mind when we hear “deal with”, we think of unpleasant emotions. It is essential to mention that pleasant and unpleasant emotions are necessary for us.
When your car breaks down, you either know how to fix it or find someone to fix it. Dealing with emotions is a little bit harder. There is no repair shop where you can take your feelings and emotions for a check. But there is a way to deal with them by sharing how you feel with others.
There are many reasons why expressing our emotions can be difficult. One reason is that some of us tend to internalize feelings rather than speak up. Another reason is that experiencing emotions, such as guilt or shame, can be overwhelming. This leads to reduced motivation to talk about the perception of others about me and my perception of self.
Ask yourself, are you rather an open book always showing your emotions? Or do you keep your inner emotional states to yourself? Do you try to look calm and composed during a job interview despite feeling anxious? When your boss is yelling and criticizing you, do you try not to show your frustration to him/her? During a conflict with your partner, do you choose to walk away without sharing what bothers you? Perhaps, you think that expressing unpleasant emotions is not polite. However, expression of your emotions is quite the opposite!
Psychologist James Gross developed the emotion regulation model, which focuses on expressing emotions while viewing and thinking about the situation from the other side. Psychologically, this process is called ‘cognitive reappraisal’. It involves the reinterpretation of emotional situation that neutralizes its emotional impact. Another part of the model is the suppression of emotions. Suppress emotions expressively means trying to not express them and suppress experientially means trying to not experience emotions at all. The reason we are hiding our emotions is a hope for beneficial, effective consequences. However, many scientific articles refer to adverse effects if a person suppresses emotions, expressively and experientially.
According to the scientists Roth, Vansteenkiste and Ryan, having and experiencing both pleasant and unpleasant emotions is associated with personal growth. One way how concealing emotions affect our personal growth is by affecting cognitive functioning, which is processes related to memory, learning, attention, decision making.
The advantages of sharing emotions can be explained by brain functioning. When you have very intense emotions, such as fear, aggression, or anxiety, the amygdala is activated (the amygdala plays essential roles in emotion and behaviour). It helps distinguish whether the situation is a threat, devise a response to that threat if necessary, and store the information in your memory to recognize the danger later. When you get stressed or overwhelmed, this part of your brain can take control and even override more logical thought processes.
Researcher Lieberman and colleagues suggested that putting your feelings into words (this process is called “affect labelling”) can diminish the response of the amygdala when you encounter things that are upsetting. This is how, over time, you can become less stressed over something that bothers you. For example, if you got in a car accident, even being in a car immediately afterwards could overwhelm you emotionally. But as you talk through your experience, put your feelings and emotions into words and process what happened, you can get back in the car without having the same emotional reaction.
Letting us feel and share emotions with others leads to feelings of freedom, autonomous living and adaptive coping strategy with life. Similarly to eating healthy and exercising, sharing emotions increases our physical well-being. It also contributes to an overall improvement of our mental well-being. And even more important, it can help you understand how and why you feel as well as how to handle your emotions more effectively in the future.