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  • Melissa Sims

Embracing Your Emotional Landscape

Emotions often take the backseat in our fast-paced lives, but understanding and accepting our feelings is crucial for our mental well-being and personal growth. Having the ability to accurately identify our emotions is how we can move through them, clearing our minds and paving a path to mental and physical health. 


I know many are sick of hearing about the effects of the last three years (yep, THREE), but the reality is that every single person on the planet was affected in some way. That doesn’t happen; most world events affect certain sectors or countries and are just a news blurb for most. To have a real world-wide issue like we did with the pandemic is truly rare. The politics of late in the US are not unique - the world experiences coups and uprisings all of the time. It’s just a little fresher for our young country. But to think that we would just come out of the other side of the last three years and return to “normal” is a bit short sighted. So we can be sick of talking about the events themselves, but we can’t ignore the emotional and mental health impact that they have had on humanity.


We won’t know how the events related to it have truly impacted us for many years to come. It was a massive shift and definitely changed the human psyche. Everyone had a different experience centered around the same issue. Some experienced it as a public health crisis, dealing with great loss and seeing the tragedy first hand. Some experienced the events of the past few years as a show of government overreach and political oppression. Some experienced paralyzing fear, not knowing what to really believe. Please take note that I said experience, not perception, of the events. While you may not agree with how one person behaved during this period, you cannot deny their experience. Not everyone saw the same thing, not everyone heard the same thing, and not everyone had the same capacity to handle their experience. 


Usually, when we aren’t ready to deal with emotions, we tamp them down and save them for a better time. I don’t believe many have processed the full gamut of emotions from their experiences. This can sometimes be helpful, especially when we aren’t in a safe place to work through them. But if you are still uncomfortable, or irritated, or even angry, about the conversations around the pandemic and subsequent events related to it, perhaps you haven’t really processed all that happened yet. 


Colorful Tree with Visible Roots

There are so many different emotions, and I won’t sit here and name them all for you. But we do have some very basic, core feelings - fear and love. These two are the roots to all of our emotional branches. Anger stems from fear. Empathy stems from love. The tree sprouted from these roots is massive, and all of those deeper, more nuanced feelings really come from the core roots. Emotions are complex and often misunderstood. They are not just reactions to events but are deeply intertwined with our thoughts, experiences, and needs. So when I say that everyone had a different experience, that is because everyone has a different lens based on their environment, their past, and their present. To begin understanding our emotions, we must first acknowledge that every emotion serves a purpose. It’s a signal from our inner self, guiding us towards our needs and values.


The journey to emotional understanding starts with self-awareness. This means taking time to reflect on what we are feeling and why. Why are we angry? Is that anger actually fear? What are we scared of? Is our fear even real? Or is this a story we have made up in our head about what could happen? Observing ourselves without judgment and recognizing that our emotions are valid, regardless of their nature, allows us to get down to the true cause of our behavior. Slow down, become curious. Mindfulness techniques like meditation or mindful breathing can create the space for emotions to surface and be acknowledged.


I would venture to guess that a lot of the feelings that are unresolved for a lot of people are centered around fear. One of our universal needs, according to Marshall Rosenberg's Universal Needs, is safety. We have gone through a period of massive uncertainty, lots of misinformation, and heartbreaking loss - and those apply to all experiences. Our safety was threatened and the fear of losing our safety was expressed through anger, sadness, anxiety, and more. Every emotion we experience is a reflection of whether our universal needs are being met or not. By linking our emotions to these needs, we gain clarity on what is truly affecting us.


Once we can accurately identify our true root feeling, we can begin to move through the emotion. It’s important to understand that an emotion is simply a message - it is data. We don’t need to attach ourselves to it and we don’t need to judge it as good or bad; but we do need to accept that we are feeling a certain way. Accepting emotions does not mean resigning to them; it means understanding their origin and what they are trying to communicate. 


Acceptance is a process that involves recognizing and naming the emotion without judgment. It requires exploring and becoming curious. Digging deeper to understand the underlying need or value associated with the emotion. We must also allow ourselves to feel the emotion fully, and understand that it’s a natural response to our circumstances and needs. 


Sometimes, we can’t always identify what we are feeling. That’s a great time to reach out for help but talking to a friend, family member, or therapist that can provide new perspectives. Practices like deep breathing, grounding exercises, or even physical activities can help in managing intense emotions. 


Embracing our emotions is a continuous journey that enriches our understanding of ourselves and enhances our interactions with others. It allows us room to experience the feelings that come and go, without holding onto those that end up suffocating our well being. We cannot move forward fully without dealing with unprocessed feelings. By employing self-awareness techniques, understanding the link between emotions and universal needs, and practicing acceptance, we can navigate our emotional landscape more effectively and compassionately. If we can do that, we can improve our empathy and prepare ourselves for whatever lies ahead. 


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