What are your emotions really telling you?
Clearly when you feel happy, elated or joyful your emotions are saying: “More please!” It doesn’t take a psychological sleuth to know what to do when you feel good; however, it does take a bit of digging to figure out what’s underneath the darker and more complex emotions.
When depression, anger, anxiety or grief show up they are messengers asking you to explore what you really want.
Grief, is a shape shifter. It can masquerade as anger, depression, anxiety, and guilt. (There is a piece on this site under the Depression heading called “Is your depression really grief” that points to how frequently people are misdiagnosed, or misdiagnose themselves, with depression when they’re really feeling grief stricken.)
While the following is a fairly oversimplified explanation, I think it can be a useful tool in exploring three major unpleasant emotions.
Often, anxiety covers depression, depression covers anger, and anger covers hurt. All four of those feelings are difficult emotions. They feel lousy, they usually involve unpleasant bodily sensations, and it’s normal to want to ditch them as fast as possible. Yet, if you push them out of your conscious awareness either with distractions, addictions, pharmaceuticals, alcohol, or other drugs, you will simply feel them more strongly in the future, or they will manifest in bodily conditions like backaches, migraines, tension headaches, IBS, palpitations, insomnia, etc.
As daunting as it may appear at first, it’s actually very liberating to plumb the depths of your initial feelings to see if there is something else underneath them. Since anger, anxiety, depression and guilt can be so disturbing, it’s a good idea to ameliorate their effect on you first.
Radical self-care practices, like yoga, qigong, walking, spending time in nature, music, self-compassion meditation, massage, acupuncture, healthy food, chocolate, inspirational videos and talks, and hugs can all soothe and mollify the harsh edges of these intense feelings.
After calming your body, mind and spirit as much as possible, you may want to do some deeper work to free yourself from the grip of the underlying emotion that is often at the root of your initial feeling.
While working with a therapist is one option, there is much you can accomplish on your own. EFT (emotional freedom technique), for example, provides a gentle, yet effective way to work with challenging feelings. You can find many helpful videos on YouTube. (Check out my piece on tapping for more information and specific suggestions.)
Another great path is through journaling. Whether written or audio, journaling can be be revealing, cathartic and calming, especially if you ask yourself some of the following questions:
Is my depression really grief?
Have I had a major change in life or a big loss recently?
Could my anger be hiding sadness and hurt feelings?
Is my anxiety covering a deeper sadness or depression?
Is there any chance anger underlies my depression?
Have my guilt feelings unconsciously created a lot of resentment?
These are very probing questions and it’s helpful to come back to them regularly.
Why do people unconsciously cover up deeper, often darker and scarier, emotions with other unpleasant feelings? It’s an unconscious choice to feel the lesser of two evils. For example, it’s easier to admit feeling angry than to get in touch with being hurt, sad, or grief stricken. Why? Because anger is empowering and feeds the ego. Just think of the Sea Witch at the end of the movie THE LITTLE MERMAID. As her anger grew she became enormous, finally imploding. Anger can be both seductive and destructive.
If depression feels so lousy and anger can be empowering, why unconsciously choose depression over anger? Because there is a gender divide in the world of feelings. You don’t consciously choose one over the other, you’ve been trained to do it. Men are allowed to express some measure of anger. Women are generally perceived as less threatening when they express depression, so they learn to stifle their anger, which then gets expressed as depression. They don’t prefer depression over anger, they’ve just been socialized to cope that way.
Whatever the origin of these tendencies, the good news is you can unearth your deeper feelings, work through them with patience, wisdom, and self compassion, and get to the other side.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang