Though Western society pays closer attention to mental health and emotional health as a whole, many people still struggle to know what to do with their uncomfortable emotions. Maybe their family of origin didn’t teach them how to do this or maybe emotions were ignored, over-spiritualized, or treated as neutral.
A person may not feel safe to express their feelings because bad things happened when they expressed them in the past. A person may avoid even facing their difficult emotions because it is too painful. They could be battling mental illness or past trauma.
Some of the more uncomfortable emotions are anger, fear, anxiety, grief, sadness, loneliness, numbness, aggravation, and hopelessness. These emotions can be painful to experience and even more difficult to express.
People don’t often know what to do with these emotions. They act out in anger – yelling, name-calling, being physically or verbally aggressive, breaking things, or holding bitterness. They shut down when sad – isolating, withdrawing, sleeping too much, or drinking too much alcohol. They fight, flight, or freeze when triggered or anxious. They hold their emotions in until they explode in harmful ways.
Though this article will not focus on effective coping skills for managing emotions, it will help a person learn how to properly express them. This does not mean it is always necessary to share one’s feelings verbally.
However, it is good and healthy to find a way to express them because they will often get more intense over time and the situation may never be resolved. It’s like a shaken-up soda can. If no pressure is released, it will explode. Uncomfortable only become harmful when we don’t know what to do with them.
Ineffective and inappropriate ways to express emotions
Huffing, eye-rolling, angry looks, stomping/storming out, slamming doors, refusing to let the person leave your presence, all may happen organically based on your emotional state, but none of them are effective at communicating the nuance of your emotional state, and none contribute to healthy communication and mutual understanding, or repair.
Saying “I’m good” when you aren’t good at all is an example of lying about how you feel. Saying “I’m sick so I can’t go tonight” when you just don’t want to go is also an example. It’s not hard to see how this can be ineffective because you don’t allow others to truly know you and it doesn’t leave room for others to understand your needs.
Some people will share how they feel in dramatic ways to seek attention from others. This shouldn’t be the motivation for sharing how you feel. Though sometimes you may genuinely need the help and attention of another in a moment, dramatic expressions are a more manipulative tactic.
Oversharing with unsafe people
Sharing all of your emotional problems and struggles with people online or with people who aren’t your safe people can set you up for rejection, ridicule, judgment, and even betrayal. There is no need to share your emotional experiences like this.
You may be someone who doesn’t have safe people, and so sharing with strangers or acquaintances seems to be your only outlet. If this is true, it could be helpful to find a professional counselor. Be careful what you share and with whom.
Harmful or aggressive expression
Yelling, ranting, name-calling, throwing things, breaking things, punching, or hitting things, passing blame, criticism, complaining, withdrawing, and isolating and the like are all harmful ways to express one’s emotions. It is difficult to have self-control when emotional, but it requires someone to know how to regulate their emotions in safe ways. If it could harm you, another person, or the environment around you, it isn’t an appropriate communication strategy.
When upset, some people will shut down and just not speak at all. They walk away or ignore the conversation or the person in order to prove they are upset, but it is ineffective because it does not bring about any change or allow a person to effectively move through those uncomfortable emotions.
Some will simply avoid talking about them or expressing them at all, even to God or in a private journal. They think avoiding feelings is easier than facing them, but what they don’t see is that avoidance only exacerbates the issues. Avoidance is never the answer.
Effective and appropriate ways to express emotions
I like to think God has an altar where I can lay anything, good, bad, sorrowful, painful. This seems like the perfect place to express one’s full range of emotions. In the Book of Psalms, one can easily see how the Psalmists expressed their emotions in prayer and song.
They were brutally honest and shared the deep places of their heart with God. He welcomes this kind of honesty in prayer because it draws someone closer to Him, and can provide relief to the object of His affection, You. Practice being honest with God in prayer. He is trustworthy and patient.
Talking to a safe person
As mentioned above, people tend to overshare with unsafe people – on social media or to people who are not close. This is not helpful because of many reasons, but it’s not appropriate or necessary for everyone to know how someone feels at any given time. Feelings are a part of someone’s personal experience and story, and not everyone is trustworthy enough to be a part of that.
However, it is sometimes necessary to tell a close friend or family member when you are struggling with sadness, anger, or anxiety. Maybe they can help in some way, or just be a listening ear.
Some of the best art, dance, music, and writing have come out of the creator’s individual experiences and emotional difficulty. Even if a person wouldn’t consider themselves creative or artistic, creating something out of emotional hardship can be very therapeutic. It is also an appropriate way of expression because it can be only seen by you if you want. Be expressive. Allow your emotions to come out in poetry, music, dance, painting, drawing, stories, and the like.
Though this can become unbalanced, some forms of exercise can be helpful ways to express uncomfortable emotions. Running can help someone get out their anger, anxiety, or stress. Punching a punching bag can release anger. Sometimes people can use this to avoid dealing with their emotions, but it can be an effective way to express them.
Journaling is always a safe way to express your emotions. You can choose to keep your journal in a safe place where one can read it, and it can be a place to say exactly how you feel and what you think most honestly. You can choose a color for different feelings.
For example, when you are feeling angry, aggravated, or irritable, you can write in red. When you are feeling sad, lonely, or depressed, you can write in blue. When feeling thankful or happy, you can write in yellow. When anxious or afraid, you can write in purple.
The simplest form of an I-Statement is like this: “I feel ____________ (name of the specific emotion) when ________________ because __________________. What I would like is __________.” When we use blaming statements to express emotions, like “You make me mad,” others don’t hear us and get defensive. It is important to take ownership of you own feelings by sharing them in I-Statements.
Another useful form is this: “When you said/did ___________, what I made up about it was _____________, and I felt ______________.” This acknowledges that responsibility for my feelings is on my side of the street and may not be based on what actually happened, and gives the other person an opportunity to clarify their meaning.
Facial expressions/ Body language
Though this can be a passive-aggressive way of expressing feelings, it can sometimes be effective. Your body and your face can show others how you feel, but you may need to further clarify if another person doesn’t understand. For example, crying or hugging another when you feel sad, or having a stern look when angry can tell others how you feel and what you need. People who know you best will be able to read these nonverbals better than others.
Regulating and expressing emotions in appropriate and effective ways takes time and practice and more self-awareness, but when done well, people can have healthier relationships and be healthier as a whole.
Christian Counseling for Individuals
If you’re looking for additional support learning how to communicate your emotions and share your feelings with those who are close to you, feel free to contact our office to schedule an appointment with me or one of the other counselors in the online counselor directory. We would be happy to help!
“Sydney”, Courtesy of Steven Coffey, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Journaling”, Courtesy of Kate Hliznitsova, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Sitting on the Cliff”, Courtesy of Tim Mossholder, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Talking on the Phone”, Courtesy of Timur Repin, Unsplash.com, CC0 License