What our society says about feelings
Hide or worst don’t recognise emotions is unhealthy and dangerous
Our culture divides our feelings into two kinds: “good” and “bad”. Anger, pain, fear, guilt, and shame are label bad or negative. Joy, passion, and love we consider good or positive. Unfortunately, this sort of “black or white” categorising is erroneous and dysfunctional.
Another cultural message is that even if it is acceptable to our family and friends for us to have some feelings, there are still certain feelings that we are not to have. For example, in our society, men must not have fear. If a man is afraid, he’s a coward. It’s acceptable for a woman to be afraid, because she’s supposed to be weak and vulnerable. But women must not be angry. If a woman is angry, she’s a witch. But a man’s anger is his male right, he’s just exerting his power.
Pain is not acceptable for either sex. The message is, “you have a right not to have any pain, so take whatever you need to numb it”. Since wisdom and maturity come from facing pain and learning from it, I believe that we are a very immature people who don’t have the willingness to experience the pain that leads to authentic wisdom. We haven’t learned how to tolerate pain and deal with it as an agent of positive change.
Feeling healthy emotions is a positive experience. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of our emotions, as long as they are expressed in a healthy, functional way and not an abusive one. As part of the equipment we need to live life fully and functionally, each of our emotions has a specific purpose:
Positive use of feeling
Feeling power and energy
A sense of protection
Awareness of growth
Awareness of fallibility
Awareness of doing wrong
Negative use of feelings
Feeling of RAGE
Feeling of PANIC
Feeling of DEPRESSION
Feeling of WORTH nothing
Feeling of being STUCK
Anger gives us the strength we need to do what is necessary to take care of ourselves. Anger enables us to assert ourselves and be who we are. It’s energy.
Fear helps us protect ourselves. When we feel fear, we become alert to the possibility of danger in our environment from which we need to protect ourselves. Healthy fear keeps us from getting into situations and relationships that would not be in our best interest.
Pain motivates us to grow toward increasing maturity. Normal healthy lives are full of pain-producing problems, and feeling the pain produces growth. Many of us were told in our family of origin that mature people didn’t have problem or pain and so when we did have both, we thought something was wrong with us.
Because of life’s routine problems and difficulties we will all be in pain from time to time. A functional person uses pain as a means to work through problems, heal from their effects, gain the wisdom that come out of painful situations, and continue in the maturing process. Repressing the pain and not facing it or medicating it in some way keeps us injured and immature.
Another emotion regulated by our society is shame. According to our culture, we may feel shame, but we’re not supposed to talk about it. As a result, many of us are out of touch with the fact that our lives are filled with experiences of shame. Shame is an emotion like guilt, pain, or joy, but it is special because it lets us know that we are imperfect human. The intensity might move from mild to moderate to strong, but it isn’t overwhelming. When we can feel our own shame, we get two vital aids for living. First, becoming aware that we are not perfect allows us to be accountable and to relate to other people intimately and not from a superior position. Second, our own shame tells us we have made a mistake, and we need to correct it or to stop doing whatever we’re doing, because it’s not appropriate.
Guilt is an uncomfortable or gnawing sensation in the abdomen that is experienced whenever we transgress our value system and is accompanied by a sense of wrongness. Guilt is often confused with shame, which is experienced as embarrassment and perhaps a flushed face, accompanied by a sense of fallibility.
For example, I feel guilty and experience that gnawing feeling in my abdomen if I lie to someone, because my value system includes telling the true. I feel shame or embarrassed if someone notices my tripping while going down the stairs. I did not transgress a value system, I merely made a mistake that people noticed.
If someone noticed that I was lying and confronted me about it, I would feel not only guilt for lying but also shame because someone else noticed my imperfection.
Both of these feelings together give us humility and accountability, important tools for living.
Each feeling is a vital part of a healthy, functional person’s range of emotions.
I suggest that whenever you’re not sure which you’re feeling, ask yourself this question: “Did I break my own rules, or am I just noticing (or is someone else noticing) my making a mistake?”