Health

Investigating your Emotions without Suppressing them

mental health

Barry Boyce, the magazine’s founding editor, answers our questions on emotional intelligence, kindness to ourselves, and how we can turn toward our emotions.

A first reaction to difficulty may be to ignore or squelch unpleasant emotions. It’s normal. With practice, however, we can learn how to engage directly with emotions rather than relying on the comforts of meditation or safe spaces. Mindfulness is about being present with what comes up and not running away.

This short video answers questions from our readers about emotional health and how to turn toward our feelings.

Barry Boyce, Founding Editor of Mindful, answers questions.

Be mindful: One concern is that if we allow ourselves to feel our emotions, we may be unable to stop touching them. Will it be challenging to deal with our feelings if we have avoided them for a while? What do you suggest?

Barry Boyce Fear that our emotions may overtake us, and rule our life (or at the very least a large portion of our time), is one of many reasons we look for mindless distraction. The first step is to be kind to yourself over and over again. Mindfulness is not about “fighting” your emotions. When we suppress something for a while, mindfulness will bring it to our attention. The key is to acknowledge it and then move on. We do the same thing when it happens again, perhaps seconds later. By breaking the emotion down into small pieces and taking it moment by moment rather than as a whole, we can reduce its emotional impact.

Never push yourself to the edge in hopes of finding freedom or insight.

It is easy to say this, but it takes a little ongoing gentle effort – laced with lots of kindness towards ourselves – to touch the emotion and then let it go. Let it go. We may need a friend or counselor to help us if we are stressed and breaking down. Never push yourself to the edge in hopes of finding freedom or insight. It’s easy. You can heal yourself by attending to your wounds.

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When we feel more secure, we can explore our emotional landscape in greater depth, using the knowledge we have gained from our repeated noticing. This is more of an awareness and inquiry-based practice than straight mindfulness.

Coping Mechanisms & Suppressing Emotions

Being mindful: Ignoring our feelings in stressful situations can sometimes be a way to cope. Can we sometimes suppress our emotions while allowing them to come out the rest of the time? Is it all or nothing when you say “not suppressing feelings”?

This is a delicate and excellent question. It is essential to always be kind to yourself. When emotions threaten to overwhelm us, we can respond with, “Yes, you’re here, but this is not the right time for me.” You may need to repeat that several times. This doesn’t mean that you are ignoring or suppressing the emotion. You are acknowledging and noticing the feeling. You can touch it, then move on. That’s mindfulness.

We can say, “Yes, you’re there but this is not the right time to be there,” when emotions threaten to overwhelm us.

By noticing it, you can reduce its ability to overwhelm you. By contrast, suppressing–actively, energetically pushing it down and away–increases that power.

Is emotional intelligence a luxury?

Some people find it challenging to work on their emotional intelligence. Others see it as a luxury. What are some ways that we can use emotional intelligence every day?

BB To understand why emotional intelligence is not an impractical luxury, first, defining what “emotional” intelligence means is essential. This idea was first introduced by researchers at Yale, Peter Salovey and John Mayer, and their lab in 1990. The concept caught on, and Salovey became a leader in the field, driving the area to discoveries and innovation. Dan Goleman’s book: Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ became a best seller and popularized this idea. In 2007, Google’s mindfulness program Search Inside Yourself emphasized emotional intelligence. The program was based on the belief that practicing mindfulness, awareness, loving-kindness, compassion, and caring for others could improve our emotional intelligence.

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We create pain for ourselves and others when we cannot “recognize and understand emotions, use them effectively, and regulate them in daily life.” It is neither impractical nor luxurious to find ways to reduce pain. It’s a healthy thing to be doing.

How can we use emotional intelligence to improve our lives? Pausing is a crucial habit from a mindfulness perspective that helps us cultivate emotional intelligence. It interrupts the momentum of our feelings, so we can take a moment and notice their appearance in our body or mind. The more we practice this habit, a bit of mindfulness helps us develop it. As we become more adept at pausing, our choices about expressing and reacting to our emotions will be more intelligent. We can learn if we notice this and take note of our experiences instead of blindly following our feelings.

In the April 2019 issue of Mindful, we featured Dena Simmons as the assistant director for the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. We also highlighted her on mindful.org. Marc Brackett is the director of the center. His book Unlocking Emotions: Helping Our Kids, Ourselves and Our Society Thrive was recently published. It’s reviewed by mindful.org.

The Ingrained Idea of Emotion

Men are taught that showing emotion (including crying) is feminine. What can we all do to change this deeply ingrained belief in ourselves and others?

BB When a boy or man seems to be on the verge of tears, you can gently tell them that it’s okay to cry. Often, a few words or nonverbal messages are enough to express the emotion without needing to be too abstract. Listening quietly and showing warmth can go a long way in helping someone let their feelings be. You can at least respond without judging the emotion as inappropriate.

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The question of how to change gender stereotypes on a larger scale goes beyond personal mindfulness. Many people have studied how children are taught and socialized about gender. These studies form the basis for several programs to bring about social change. The Representation Project was started by Jennifer Seibel Newsom, married to California’s current governor.

According to The Representation Project, her film Miss Representation is about how girls are taught to limit their thinking regarding gender. The Mask You Live In follows boys and young men struggling to remain true to themselves as they negotiate America’s narrow definition of masculinity. Newsome’s The Great American Lie focuses on a society addicted to a particular purpose of masculine value and holds it up as superior. Newsome has spoken on these topics at the Wisdom 2.0 Conference several times. The Mask You Live In showcases the work of Ashanti Branch, featured in Mindful Mindful30 Challenge. These films are suitable for school groups or anyone interested in gender education.

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