There seems to be a general trend that experiencing emotions is not permitted especially among female professionals. That being emotional is a sign of weakness. It’s understandable that we don’t want to break down in tears at the office but what are you doing with those emotions once you leave for the day and does it matter? Those emotions are simply a sign of what’s happening inside of us regardless of whether or not we let the emotion show. The question is–are we letting them out AT ALL?
Well over a decade ago, I was playing an in an adult softball league and I hit an infield ball and took off towards first base. In this particular league, we did not wear helmets which the shortsightedness of suddenly came into full view when the third baseman, in an attempt to throw me out at first base, hit me in the head with the softball promptly knocking me out cold. Nothing like a good faceplant and sliding into home unconscious to really stoke one’s ego.
As I came to and I was escorted back to the dugout, I was overcome with all of these emotions bubbling beneath me wanting to come out. I was embarrassed, I was in shock, I had adrenaline rushing through me, and yes, my head was a bit sore. The only thing I wanted to do at that moment, was burst into tears and let all of the emotions out. I wasn’t in pain so much as I was just overcome with all these warring emotions that wanted to burst out of me in an hurricane of tears. But the junior high little girl in me that had been told not to cry and that everything was OK held back those tears and pushed all of the energy back down into my body.
I remember that moment so distinctly because the desire to burst into tears were so palpable but also the desire not to cry was also incredibly persuasive. I didn’t want people to judge me. I didn’t want to embarrass myself. I didn’t want people to think I was a baby.
I think about that experience a lot and wonder: when did it become so wrong for us to experience emotions?
I see the origins of my own experience and watching other children participate in sporting activities. When someone falls and hurts themselves or skins a knee, one of the first things people around them say is, “You’re OK. It’s fine. Everything, is fine. Don’t cry.”
Why do we do that? Does it make us a lesser human being to experience those emotions? Why are negative emotions “embarrassing”?
There are a lot of reasons why we feel like we need to hide our emotions. Sometimes, just to get through the day, we tell ourselves that we can deal with our emotions later, or that those feelings aren’t worth exploring, or we hide them because we think it will make the relationship easier – I don’t want to tell this person I’m mad at them because it will upset our dynamic and cause more trouble than it’s worth. When we bottle up those emotions, it feels safer than experiencing them. What’s more, it allows us to “maintain” a façade of perfection and unflappability.
Implicitly, we prefer to show up as unfeeling Stepfords as opposed to humans with a full range of emotions.
But simply because we don’t let the tears fall or let our anger escape, it doesn’t change the fact that those emotions are there raging below the surface. Wouldn’t it be better for our physical and energetic bodies just to simply release the energy in tears?
Is it really good for our bodies to lock down all of that energy and keep it stifled within ourselves and to not honor what we’re actually experiencing? A good cry can be cathartic and letting that energy escape and honoring our experience can be incredibly empowering. Unfortunately, the embarrassment that often accompanies emotional expression, even in private, is a social construct and something that we were taught over time.
It’s not just about whether we show emotions in the middle of a difficult work confrontation, but more importantly are we aware that those emotions NEED to be released and honored at some point? That choosing to hide them while at work is one thing but choosing to ignore them in your own solitude is another.
Many of the professionals I work with have a lot of discomfort around showing emotion and processing negative emotions. In honor of that discomfort they gravitate toward perfectionism and people pleasing — because if we are perfect, and keep everyone happy, we never have to experience the pain that comes from failing or disappointing others, or the discomfort of vulnerability. Overtime, this can be incredibly isolating and lead to the belief that others just don’t “get” you (after all, how can anyone truly understand you if you continually hide your truth?) and that breeds anger and resentment which only further isolates us.
Not only is this ultimately detrimental to our relationships — because we end up hiding who we really are, walking on egg shells so as not to upset anyone — but it is also detrimental to our bodies. There is evidence that bottling up emotions can manifest in physical stress and even disease. If we can think about emotions simply as energy bouncing around in side of our bodies, it can be easier to understand why it’s essential to honor that energy and allow it to move through us as opposed to bottling it up. If our emotions are simply energy, when we bottle them up, aren’t we simply putting a lid on an already boiling pot of water? Aren’t we further ensuring that the pot WILL boil over at some point and likely cause even more damage to its surroundings? Wouldn’t it be better to remove the pot from the stove and let that energy run its course? When we think of emotions as energy, it becomes easier to imagine the damage that energy can do it left to continually build pressure within our bodies. In that context, we can understand why bottling up those emotions never resolves them, it simply forces them to build more energy until we completely boil over. Consider what impact that bottled energy has on your body and nervous system.
Our emotions are a signpost to what is happening in our lives. They are the purest means to find your true north and connect with what you are really thinking about the events in your life. It’s not about being “emotional,” it’s about letting those emotions plug you in to your deepest thoughts. If we could see those negative emotions that pop up during the day as signposts for life, would we continue to bury them and their roots? Would we strive so hard to be perfectionist and to please others if we were perfectly comfortable experiencing the full range of emotions?
The next time, you feel challenged by negative emotions during your day — anger, resentment, sadness, disappointment — ask yourself what those emotions are trying to show you about your experience. Consider making time to explore them instead of ignoring them. What impact would that have on your relationships and even your physical health?
The only way to truly succeed in the legal industry is to develop a deeper understanding of your brain and your emotions. Through that work, we are able to understand and dismantle the cycle of meltdowns and fully take control over our success. Join us. It all starts with a free consult.
Photo by cottonbro studio