Why are we so poor at dealing with our emotions?

Maybe you’re not, maybe its just me.  Is it because evolutionarily we worry about showing emotion as a sign of weakness that gives some imaginary power to others to hold over us? Or is it that we’re simply just not good at it?

When we are able to understand and name our emotions we are in a better position to tame them.  A study led by Matthew Lieberman looked at how people responded to looking at pictures of faces with different emotional expressions.  The act of naming the emotion reduced its impact on the participants.  It turned out that when naming the emotion the activity in part of the brain’s prefrontal cortex increased significantly (Bill Lucas, rEvolution, how to Thrive in Crazy Times).

People who routinely notice their emotions get better at picking up their early warning signals such as clenched fists or the pit in the stomach, or tight shoulders, or raising the voice, cutting across others when they speak, and so on. They are also better at recognising their negative inner voices and finding ways to banish them. 

By their very nature emotions consume energy.  Its all too easy not to recognise an emotion is emerging when we are in the moment.  It’s only as our self-awareness grows we become able to notice emotions as they occur.  From then we can take a step back and look at it from a different perspective as if it were happening to someone else.  The very act of noticing the emotion can help us separate us from it and create space for us to evaluate what’s going on.

When we are dealing with the inevitable transition through life, if we can notice our emotions and name them, we are better placed to be able to see them as part of a larger pattern and are more likely to be able to modify our behaviours in light of previous experiences.

I grew up in the era of suck-it-up.  If I fell over and hurt myself and cried, I’d be asked if I was dead yet, if not, stop grizzling.  It instilled a sense of no point talking about it, you’ll not get much sympathy.  I’m not berating my childhood experiences here, but those early lessons are the ones that shape who we become. 

Over the years and various life experiences, I have learned not to bother saying what I actually feel.  Either no one is going to listen, nobody cares, I’ll not get any sympathy and therefore nothing will change, so there’s no point saying anything.  What I’m finding now in later life, and it may be “woman of a certain age” related, is I get more emotional about things more easily. I cry more at sad movies.  I feel more desolate when I don’t get a hug from C when I need one (not because he refuses, but probably doesn’t even notice).  When I feel I want to talk about emotional stuff, I can’t find the words to use. I feel people will think I’ve lost the plot. I don’t know who to talk to about emotional stuff; its not necessarily appropriate to discuss with C and he doesn’t talk about his emotions either, so we’re as bad as each other. 

All this can lead to bottling up emotions over time, then when they explode, someone asks why you didn’t say anything or where did that come from.  Some may even think you’re having a midlife crisis because its out of character.  Sometimes, its just not that easy to say things, find the words, speak to the people you really need to speak to about what you’re feeling. Sometimes you still have to just suck it up.


One thought on “Why are we so poor at dealing with our emotions?

  1. I agree that I’m also not good with words. Doesn’t mean I don’t care or don’t have anything I want to say, just don’t know how to say it. I also remember someone telling me years ago that crying doesn’t solve anything so don’t waste your energy. So I don’t cry at much either. I’m at a point that I don’t think it’s worth expressing my opinions as I think everyone else talks louder, and I just can’t be bothered with the fight, ha 😃🤔

    Liked by 1 person

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