Feeling Emotions: No Permission Needed!

I recently watched the movie Inside Out for the 10 millionth time and love the part where Joy watches Sadness sit with Bing Bong while he cries because something “was sad.”  You see, Joy had tried so many tricks to try and cheer him up, change his mood; but, the only thing that really worked was being able to sit with Sadness and feel sad.  Joy finally realized that in order to move through Sadness you have to sit in it.  However, since I first started working with clients, I have found myself having to explain that it is okay to have feelings.

You are allowed to feel angry, sad, scared, happy, embarrassed…

Upon reflection, I realized that I use that statement a lot, usually in response to someone who is judging their natural emotional response to something and feeling shameful for even admitting it out loud.  Then I got upset and walked around my office space waving my never-to-be-controlled Italian, sign language hands at the hypothetical man.

When did we start needing permission to feel?!

Some of you might be thinking: Dr. J works with children who understand that permission is required for most things to prevent any sort of consequence; so, in a way, this need makes sense.  NOPE.  While kids do require permission for many things, feeling is not one of them.  What is the undesirable consequence to be avoided?  A tantrum?  Yelling?  Dare I say it…Crying?! 

Sure, there are ineffective ways to manage one’s emotions, but feeling them cannot be helped and expressing them should not be discouraged.  In fact, there is never a “right” way to feel.  However, it is important that these emotions are felt and not internalized.  Internalizing emotions often leads to more severe symptoms and increased difficulty later when you are working to modify the way you think and feel about certain experiences. 

I am not expecting you to walk into a crowded space and start crying next time you feel sad.  But if the urge is there and you want to give it a try, I suggest:

·       Crying or shouting in a place you feel comfortable (maybe that’s in the shower so no one can hear you or into a pillow in the comfort of your own bed cuddled up with your favorite stuffed animal).

·       Ripping up tissue paper or paper towels rather than homework or an important work fax.

·       Punching a pillow or something equally fluffy rather than a wall or door.

·       Having something soothing ready for after you express your emotions (for me that might be a tasty drink or snack, a good song or book, or a funny YouTube show).

Working through emotions and feelings alone is also an unnecessary struggle.  While I totally volunteer as tribute to fight off the tough stuff that makes you feel bad, I also know that I’m only around once a week for one hour.  It is important to share your feelings with other safe individuals around you and create a network of support that you can talk to or call or text whenever you are struggling.

My hope for all of you is that like Bing Bong, you cry little candies that you can enjoy after you openly challenge The Man…or at least feel a little lighter from letting go of those feelings you were holding in so tightly because no one reminded you that it’s okay to be sad, it’s okay to be mad, it’s okay to worry, it’s okay to feel.