Elisa A. Escalante/ LCSW/ 12-28-2022
In many cases, I do find that I need to go ‘back to the basics’ with clients. Or, teach them something new, something they should have known but never knew. The common perception many societies have is that there are ‘good emotions’, and ‘bad emotions’. The good ones you can showcase and be proud of, the bad ones you must hide, bottle up, escape from, get rid of and/ or deny completely, even to yourself. Why do we teach each other to do this? Mostly because the quote on quote ‘bad emotions’; shame, guilt, grief, sadness, anger, desperation, hysterics, shock etc are both uncomfortable for the individual, and uncomfortable for their friend/ family member/ or partner to witness. So in turn, we resort to deflection and bad teachings on how to manage these emotions.
IF we treat an emotion like a physical wound, we would interpret the damage and find the treatment for it. This starts with recognizing that each emotion actually has a purpose. Yes, even the uncomfortable ones.
The purpose(s) of:
Anxiety- This emotion often tells us that our environment is over stimulating or threatening and we must go elsewhere. This emotion can also tell us that we have a deep problem that we need to resolve and find solutions for, otherwise relaxation is impossible. This emotion can come up when we are doing something new and we do not feel confident in our abilities to handle it just yet.
Anger- Anger tells us the threat around us is significant enough that we may need to fight it, either verbally or physically. Anger tells us when someone or something is a threat to our peace/ equilibrium. Anger gives us the ability to create space & boundaries when/ if we decide to use it productively.
Sadness- This emotion often tells us that we need to hunt for endorphins and joy. We may need a change of scenery, we may need to task switch, we may need to move our body or get more sunlight. We may need a random adventure. We may need to get away from emotional vampires that are sucking our energy.
Shame- Shame tells us that we may have regret and/ or guilt. This is an emotion that can humble us and guide us to do better in our future. This emotion can lead us to lessons learned, and without it, could imply a sociopathic mind.
Shock- Shock means the situation feels like it is too much to handle. And in turn, we may need to get to safety quickly. We also likely need a grace period to handle this emotion and allow it to settle, it will take some time. After shock and other emotions wear off, there is also typically a learning experience in the aftermath
Rage- Rage is an accumulation of betrayal, hurt and anger built up over a period of time. Rage can cause compulsions to act before thinking. If used effectively, we recognize that rage is telling us that we need some major life changes, to include many of the people we surround ourselves with.
Grief- Grief is sometimes described as the absence of those we loved. Since grief is one of the most complex emotions of all, I describe it more by telling clients what it IS NOT. Grief has no timelines, grief has no real rules, the ‘stages of grief’ can come in any order and some stages never happen. Grief has no magical pill or treatment plan. Grief IS both painful and normal. Post grief behaviors are a large variety and range, and often judged, but rarely should be judged.
Interpret, then act accordingly
After we begin to interpret emotions in a healthy way, we can then act accordingly. I will show you unhealthy examples of how to interpret and handle emotions vs some healthier examples. Again, the emotions are not inherantly bad, it’s what we do with them or refuse to do with them.
Sadness Unhealthy example: A person hates the feeling of sadness and hates for people to know they are sad so much that they act happy always, use humor even when hurtful to others, and abuse a drug regularly to escape sadness.
Sadness healthy example: A person feels sad and starts to go for a walk, takes the time to stretch outside under the sunlight, then goes inside and watches a funny show or does some reading or journaling.
Anger unhealthy example: A person channels their anger into arguments, and if someone does not agree with them, they argue more. They are also throwing things when it does not go their way.
Anger healthy example: A person starts to feel anger and practices deep breathing, time outs from the anger trigger source, and resorts to a physical activity that can help channel their anger into something productive that helps their body and get’s them away from the anger trigger.
Grief unhealthy example: After they lose someone, they shut everyone out while also pretending nothing happened in their life. They get into an obsessive ritual to distract themselves from the sadness that accompanies their loss.
Grief healthy example: They allow whatever emotions come up, they share it with trusted friends or family, they take some time off from work or other projects, they also continue to practice their own personal self care and give themselves a grace period.
Anxiety unhealthy example: They stop taking risks, or they procrastinate completely when the feeling is too overwhelming. They get increasingly irritable and overstimulated without practicing boundaries, and may go into full blown isolation or agoraphobia.
Anxiety healthy example: They problem solve, they work out plans B’s through Z’s of what to do ‘if the worse case scenerio happens’, they practice small goal setting and completing objectives toward those goals to boost their confidence and alleviate their personal uncertainties, insecurities and concerns.
Does it ever go away?
Sometimes emotions can get so extreme if our biology, psychology or social environment get’s haywired, hijacked or toxic. And sometimes emotions linger for an extended period of time; more than we would like. Sometimes we get full blown mental health disorders, yes. The question is often: ‘Do these things ever go away?’ Can emotions ever go away? absolutely not, again, they have purpose therefore we must welcome them with purpose. Is it normal to wish them away? Of course! Are we setting ourselves up for dissapointment if we keep trying to will them away? Yes. I advise people, after trust is gained, to stop ‘cure hunting’, and start interpreting and learning emotional & symptom maintenance. Our energy is better off being spent on something practical, not something that is techically impossible. I can try to wish I will never experience depression again, but I know that is not realistic. I will likely have another depressive flair up, another anxiety attack, another loss w/ grief, another shame episode, another rage episode etc etc before I die.