Today at church we started talking about emotional health. Toward the end of the service we had used the phrase “emotionally healthy” many times but I didn’t feel like I had a concrete definition of it, so I jotted some notes on what I thought it meant to be emotionally healthy:
- Able to identify what your are feeling
- Able to identify why you are feeling that
- Able to feel your feeling
- Able to express your feeling to someone
- Able to manage your feeling in an appropriate, healthy way
After church I contemplated where I stood on these 5 steps.
Step 1: I’m pretty good at this. I can usually give a name to my emotions. A lot of times I feel multiple things at once, and I can usually pick apart which is which.
Step 2: I’m also pretty good at this. Sometimes the reason eludes me, but usually if I sit and think through my day and my thought processes I can pin down the cause for my feeling to something.
Step 3/4: This is where I start to falter. Although my emotions can be quite strong, I tend to suppress them. I pondered why this is the case, and the conclusion I came to was emotional invalidation. This is when emotions are ignored, or even treated negatively. I hold back from expressing myself because so often, the reactions have been negative. “It’s not that big a deal.” “Grow up.” “Quit whining.” Emotional invalidation hurts. And I guess I’ve experienced it enough times that as a self-protective mechanism, I don’t let myself become open to that hurt. Feeling emotion is a moment of vulnerability, especially when it’s a strong emotion. And I fear that vulnerability because I’ve been burned too many times. Sometimes it didn’t even have to be anyone telling me my feeling was bad or wrong, it could have just been a societal or cultural belief.
What I need are people and spaces where I can comfortably feel and express my emotions, where I know I won’t be unreasonably judged or invalidated. I have some of this, but I don’t think I have enough. Getting more means taking the risk of being more and more emotionally honest with others and myself, and seeing what happens. Will there be moments when I am burned? Of course. But hopefully in doing so I will also find people who are receptive to my emotional openness.