Learning To View Your Emotions Like The Seasons
September, as the month that marks the transition from Summer to Fall, can be a good reminder that change is a constant. It can help us remember that all states of being, all experiences, are temporary. Very often, what can make it hard for us to feel in control and manage our emotions is the belief that I will always feel this way and there’s nothing I can do about it. The truth is, however, that even when certain emotional experiences are long lasting, they are never eternal. Our emotional states, just like the seasons of the year, are temporary and bound to change.
I have come to learn that when it comes to processing emotions in therapy, the biggest challenges many of us face come from difficulty in identifying emotions, resistance to accepting our emotions and deciding what exactly we want to do with them. So let’s start there. Often, we refer to emotions as “positive”, like happy, excited, and calm, or “negative”, such as anxious, angry, and sad. We tend to put judgments on our emotions, and as a result, we judge ourselves for having an emotional experience. In therapy, I spend time with clients exploring how they have learned to judge their emotions: “How did your family talk about emotions? Who could you turn to when you were feeling sad, scared or anxious? What emotions were you taught as good to have, or not okay to have? What was seen as the right or wrong way to express how you were feeling?”. In exploring the messages we receive about emotions, we are able to come to the understanding that we were not born judging ourselves for having emotions. This serves as a reminder that many of us have received unhelpful messages about emotions, whether from our families or society as a whole, that have led to us judging the emotions we experience.
So what exactly are we supposed to do with our emotions? Well the first step is always to acknowledge and identify what it is that you’re feeling. Check in with your emotional experience every now and then. It is a social norm to ask others how they're doing, but what about extending that same care and curiosity to yourself and your own emotional experience? Getting familiar with your emotions can give you more insight into what they are trying to tell you about your experience and can make them easier to cope with. It is in this place that you can also acknowledge the automatic judgments you may have toward your emotional experience. Ask yourself if it really is a negative thing to feel sad or angry, or if this was just something you were taught along the way. Acknowledging these judgments will help in moving toward a place of acceptance.
Acceptance, as you know, isn’t always easy, especially if we’ve spent a long time judging ourselves and our emotions. Our emotions are a reflection of our internal experience and while we cannot always explain why we are feeling what we are feeling, we can at least accept them as part of the human experience. Remind yourself that it’s okay to experience the emotion you are experiencing. It may be uncomfortable, you may not like it, but it’s okay. It can also be helpful to remind yourself that the emotional experience is temporary - you won’t always feel this way. Think of emotions like the seasons of the year - maybe you look forward to certain seasons. Maybe you feel dread thinking about experiencing others. But our emotions, like the seasons, are temporary if we give them the chance to show us that they are. The trouble is, we are often so busy judging them or trying to avoid feeling them that we don’t give them the chance to leave on their own. By accepting your emotional experience, you can also begin to learn healthy ways to cope with any emotions you may have been resisting.
Similarly, by identifying, acknowledging and accepting your emotions as they come to you, you can give yourself permission to fully live out the human experience by feeling the emotion. This doesn't take away from the pain or discomfort that comes with experiencing certain emotions, but it can free you of the extra emotional burden that comes from resisting, avoiding and judging those emotions. In doing so, you can begin to see that you are not at the mercy of your emotions in choosing how to behave. You can move to a place where you can begin to decide for yourself how you would like to respond to this emotional experience. You can choose how you would like to respond to this "season" and cope with whatever emotion you are experiencing.
Let this month and the changing of the seasons be a reminder that your emotions, too, are temporary and will not last forever. Just as you do not judge the leaves for changing colors, give yourself permission to no longer judge yourself for who you are - a human being with emotions. Give yourself permission to lean in and feel.