You’ve heard different pieces of my story of growing up without emotions. But before I shut my heart down to the world, I was full of emotion and life.
6-year-old Japheth was wide-eyed, curious, full of wonder, mischievous, adventurous, joyful, vulnerable, creative. He loved to run around in the woods and explore, a huge smile on his face, laughing and yelling whenever he felt like it.
He was innocent and pure, with a sweet presence about him. He was a feeler, and cried easily. He was connected to his heart, and didn’t know any way of living other than with his hands out, heart open, and in love with life.
Today, I’m still working my way back to the ways of the innocent 6-year-old Japheth.
As the years went by, little Japheth learned that being vulnerable meant getting hurt. He learned that being emotional as a man meant something was broken about him. He learned that feelings don’t have any value. He learned that creativity and art is not worth spending time on.
By the time I was 10 or 12, I had had enough pain, so I chose to shut down my heart and live from my logic (my brain) from then on.
The past year, I’ve been slowly unlearning everything I learned over the past 8 years. It’s been a process of peeling off the layers of shame, pain, and guilt.
Sadly, this process is far too common, and it's not limited to men or women, or certain ethnic groups. It's a human thing.
If you find yourself relating to any of the above, I hope this can be a helpful guide to knowing what to do with your emotions.
First off, what are emotions? My definition is this:
"emotions are indicators, or warning signs of your heart communicating a need to you."
1. Allow yourself to feel
This is often the hardest part! Allowing yourself to feel can be scary, intimidating, vulnerable, painful. It can bring up painful memories of the past where feelings scarred or hurt you.
Emotions aren't meant to be fixed, they're meant to be felt.
Emotions that aren't felt and processed today will always show up at some point in time. It's not a matter of if, but when.
Emotions must be felt.
Pain, joy, anger, frustration. They need to be felt. We deny ourselves the opportunity to meet our heart where it's at and give it what it needs when we stuff our emotions in the trunk.
Don't run from emotion. Ask yourself, "Why am I feeling this? Heart, what is going on? What do I need?"
Emotions are little warning signals saying, "Hey, listen to me, I'm trying to tell you something!" If they are ignored and stuffed in the trunk, they can manifest in ugly ways.
You find yourself involved in an affair when you thought your marriage was doing great, but because of emotions that were ignored for years and allowed to build up, they came out in an ugly way when least expected.
2. Don’t judge
My first instinct with emotions is to immediately judge the emotion as either good or bad. It seems like the right thing to do, right?
My good friend Josh Huth so beautifully put it this way concerning judging emotions:
"Judgement subconsciously gives us permission to isolate from ourselves and to judge which emotions we’ll engage with within."
This is not to say that everything that we feel is good, right, and true, but judgement should never be the goal when working with emotions.
We don't want to isolate from what we are feeling, because our feelings are a part of who we are, to an extent. If we disengage from ourselves, it opens the door wide open to shame and feeling less than.
Your heart needs to be seen, not judged. It needs to be free to express its' needs without being criticized. It needs to be accepted and comforted, not judged and criticized.
3. Rule over your emotions
This might sound contradictory to the previous points, and it can be a slippery slope to navigate. Emotions make great servants but terrible masters.
When emotions are ruling your life, you're in trouble.
Let's say that you or someone in your life is always angry at the world, God, other people, or themselves. This anger is their heart screaming at them, saying, "There's something going on in here, and you need to do something about it!"
Resolving this looks like something. It will look different for each situation, but this person might have un-processed or un-felt pain they need to feel, or they need to forgive their father for a childhood hurt they are holding on to, or they need to learn how to love who they are and reverse the cycle of self-hatred.
We can't always control what happens TO us, but we can always control what happens IN us.
We need to be responsible for our emotions and how we allow them to dictate our thoughts and actions.
We must be able to manage our inner world, or our outer world will be a mess. Some change happens from the outside in, but I believe that at least 80% of change stems from who you are, from the inside out.
4. Talk about your emotions
It's okay to not be okay. It's okay to have a bad day. It's okay to be pissed at life.
But it's not okay to do any of these things alone!
Isolation is one of the greatest killers of relationship, growth, and intimacy. It is not healthy. It is not good.
There is a difference between isolating and "having alone time," but lying to ourselves about which is which is dangerous. We need people and accountability if we want to do what we are born to do. There is no way to do it alone.
Don't let shame tell you to isolate. Reach out to someone when you feel like hiding.
Community is what will propel us to the greatest heights, and rescue us from the lowest lows. It is vital for a healthy, free, and powerful life.
It's okay to not be okay, but it's not okay to not be okay by yourself.
Practical Next Steps
Ask yourself, "Do I feel comfortable dealing with emotions, or do I run from them?" Do you stuff them in the trunk, or do you allow yourself to feel them (in an appropriate context)? Emotions aren't your enemy, but they also shouldn't be running your life. Create a step-by-step plan for how you will respond to your emotions in the future.
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Japheth is a writer, photographer, and encourager. He currently resides in northern California where he is learning how to make life awesome every single day.