Coping With Dis-Ease: Emotional Integration

Yesterday was my birthday. Actually, it was the second anniversary of my 30th birthday. I decided last year that all birthdays from here on out would be phrased in this manner; it makes the idea of eventually turning 40 and 50 slightly less intimidating.

The day started out fairly rocky; my husband’s been stressed to the max this week, my kids are kids- loud, crazy, messy- you know how that goes. My physical pain level was an eight for most of the day but, despite the pain, there were several reasons to smile and precious memories made.

The highlight though, and the reason I’m sharing a glimpse of my day with you, happened last night as my husband and I stood, naked, in front of our bathroom mirror with a carton of eggs.

I gripped the egg firmly with my right hand and could feel the anger bubbling up as I stared at the reflection of my body. A body that, for the past several years, has wreaked havoc on our marriage and in our home. A body that this week, my husband and I were both particularly frustrated with.

I thought of all the joy- the moments, the activities, the precious memories- this body has stolen from me. I recalled the pain- both physical and emotional- that has become a constant in our lives. I thought of the limitations and lifestyle changes I’m still trying to adjust to. As I thought and remembered, I felt. I felt the anger rushing through my veins. I felt my muscles tighten and my palms sweat. I felt my heart beating forcefully inside my chest.

I threw the egg.

And I let go.

I let go of the anger that had been building all day. The anger that I was trying desperately to shut out- it was my birthday for goodness sake. I wasn’t supposed to be angry. But the anger kept coming and the more I tried to ignore it, the more forceful it became. It grew and festered until I let it out.

I grew up believing that any emotion, aside from joy, was bad. If I wasn’t feeling happy, I thought I was doing something wrong. Or even worse, I thought there was something wrong with me. Most of my generation grew up believing that the presence of emotion was a sign of weakness.

Society wove ideas such as these into the core of our existence:

  • It’s okay to cry, as long as you do it behind closed doors.
  • You can be angry, just don’t be loud about it.
  • If you’re feeling scared, you need to toughen up.

Emotion was not talked about openly and emotional expression was shunned. So we learned to hide our emotion. We learned to stuff it, run from it and avoid it at all costs. But living a happy, healthy, well-rounded life does not come from stuffing or avoiding emotion. We are emotional beings; we were created to feel.

Emotions are not bad, they are not a sign of weakness or an indication that something is inherently wrong in our make-up. Emotions are simply information; a road map for living an authentic life.

If I’m feeling scared, it is my body’s way of communicating my brain’s observation of a potential threat. When I can lean into the fear, instead of turning away from it, I am more likely to identify the source of the potential threat and either reprogram my brain to identify said source as non-threatening or eliminate the threat if it has a potential of causing me harm.

When I lean into anger, I often find that beneath the anger is hurt or disappointment that arises out of a need that’s not being met. Emotional security- a need for love, belonging, acceptance and worth- is often a need that causes anger when I perceive that it’s not being met. My need for emotional security is always met but my brain often misreads external cues which leads to a perception of unmet needs.

The key to living a balanced life is not ridding emotion, but rather learning to integrate and channel emotion in healthy ways.

My five year old is currently struggling with anger outbursts. His brain works a little bit differently than most and he gets frustrated very easily. For him, there is usually about five seconds between starting to feel frustrated and throwing something across the room. I am working with him on finding more socially acceptable ways to channel his anger. I continually remind him that it’s okay if he feels frustrated or angry but throwing a toy or hitting his brother is not an appropriate way to channel that emotion. Instead, I have suggested screaming into a pillow, stomping the ground or punching a soft cushion. That way, he is able to release the anger without putting himself or anyone else in danger.

Emotion is not meant to be ignored, shut out, stuffed or avoided. Emotion is meant to be noticed and paid attention to. It is meant to be processed and then released in a way that benefits the holder.

Egging myself in the mirror last night was extremely therapeutic. The entire process- noticing that I was angry, leaning in so I could look for what was beneath the anger, talking myself through the reality that my physical limitations do not devalue my worth or cause me to become unlovable, and releasing the emotion through a physical act- left me feeling refreshed and renewed.

Sometimes, emotion is present for no reason other than we are emotional being created to feel. Other times, emotion is our brain and body’s way of communicating. Either way, I’m finding it essential to allow the emotional process to unfold. The more I allow emotion to be an intricate part of my make-up, instead of resisting it, the closer I become to living a rich, authentic, meaningful life.

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