Your Emotions: Friends or Foes?


Emotions get a bum rap. We’re taught from an early age that some are bad and others are good. And, because emotions tend to make people uncomfortable — including ourselves — we also learn that it’s probably better for everyone if we keep them under cover.

Or maybe it’s best, an internal voice might say, to pretend they don’t exist.

There’s a glaring challenge with these approaches, though: We have emotions. They’re a fundamental part of being human. As much as we might like to push them aside and move on as they arise, they’re not going anywhere. In fact, the more we ignore or stuff them, the more they will show up in inconvenient ways to get our attention.

So, we can continue to treat emotions like unwanted interlopers and get the same uncomfortable results, or we can embrace them as the helpful messengers they are. The latter can lead not only to feeling better internally but also to utilizing the deep, intuitive wisdom of emotions in all areas of life.

How They Appear

When, why and how we experience emotions is as individual as we are, but there are common ways they tend to show up. Here are a few, along with examples of what they may look like in various situations.

  • Directly. If you wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of a window breaking in your home, your emotions could range from startled to fearful to angry, or anything in between. You can likely identify what you’re feeling quickly, and it fits with the context of what’s happening in the moment.
  • Quietly. When your hard work or creativity is rewarded, you might feel a quiet internal hum of pride or joy. Or, at other times, “quiet” could look like a simmer of frustration going on under the surface that you notice but don’t act on. Here, too, you probably can recognize what you’re feeling and associate it with your current experience.
  • Explosively. When you encounter a circumstance or behavior that triggers you, your reaction might feel like an explosion (internally or externally). Whether or not your mind realizes that your reaction doesn’t quite fit the situation, you’re still on autopilot. Once the trigger is tripped, the response is there, and often it’s not until later when you take time to reflect, that you identify what you felt and why your response was so outsized.
  • Sideways. This happens when you’re upset about one thing but direct it at someone or something else. For instance, you may have an encounter at work that frustrates or angers you, but rather than addressing it with those involved, you project it toward a loved one at home. Misplaced emotion like this can confuse those around you, leaving them feeling hurt or blindsided.
  • Masked. Emotions also mask each other. Anger hides emotions like fear, vulnerability, and grief. Sadness or depression is often a cover for deep-seated grief, too. And, as a wise woman once shared with me, “sad” can look like “mad.” What you feel on the inside can show on your face as an external mask.
  • Blended. When your emotions are so intertwined that you don’t know where one ends and another begins, it’s challenging to get a handle on what the individual components are and why they’re showing up. It may feel like your internal state is overwhelmed by a tsunami, or has been hijacked. This can lead to anxiety, uncertainty and fear, along with uncomfortable physical sensations.

What You Can Do

Internal Family Systems (IFS) offers an effective way to be with emotions. According to the IFS methodology, we all have an internal system that contains numerous parts led by the Self. Like members of a family, each part has its own personality, needs and role that it plays to help keep our internal family system functioning and safe. This intention to protect is present even when a part is behaving in a way that doesn’t feel good, which may seem counterintuitive.

Thinking of emotions as coming from parts of yourself can help avoid overwhelm, put some breathing room between you and them, and open a path to relationship. It also may enable you to approach your parts with qualities like compassion or curiosity, which are hallmarks of Self leadership. Once parts feel recognized, acknowledged and appreciated, they tend to relax (sometimes a little bit, other times a lot).

You can discover more about your parts by journaling, engaging in various forms of art or starting an internal dialogue. Click here to learn more about the IFS process and find additional resources.

If you’d like to get to know your parts better as a way to understand your emotions, overcome an obstacle or solve a challenging problem, connect with Kristen. She utilizes IFS in her coaching practice and can help you navigate your internal family system gently yet effectively.

Published in Featured Articles, Life
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