Emotions are meant to emote and express. The challenge is the social filter that surrounds us. It’s not acceptable to be emotional. What does that filter cause us to do? We avoid or hide from our emotions. We feel embarrassed or weak if we have the. We end up not expressing them. Most of my life I spent dancing around emotions and stuffing them.
In 1981, I started having emotional outbursts for no reason. I still remember one specific experience like it was yesterday. My friends were meeting at our favorite bar after work. When I walked through the door there wasn’t a vacant chair waiting for me at the table everyone was sitting at. An uncontrollable fiery heat rushed into my face and through my body. I started shaking and it felt like I was going to explode. I don’t remember the specific words that flew out of my mouth, but I know they were nasty and hateful. My self destructive thoughts were triggered by not seeing a vacant chair waiting for me. I remember feeling like they didn’t want me to be there. Ridiculous? Yes, but my thoughts were my reality in that moment. What could possibly cause such a crazy nasty emotional outburst? I had no clue at that time.
I was in the Air Force at that time in Minot, ND. I reached out to one of my commanding officers who I admired greatly. I shared the details of my unexplained outbursts and asked for his advice. He suggested that I make an appointment with the Air Force psychologist. I resisted fiercely and argued that I wasn’t crazy. In the end, my admiration and respect for him opened the door for what was next.
My Air Force psychologist was an amazing listener. I found myself sharing things with her that no one knew about me. I ever heard myself say things I didn’t know about me. Our conversations grew deeper and deeper. I was able to own the fact that I was under a terrific amount of stress. Several sessions later she gained my trust so that she could ask me this question. “How do you express anger?” My answer, “I don’t need to. I’m not an angry person.” She asked me if I was open for her professional opinion on what might be happening. By this time, I was open for whatever she had to say.
She suggested my emotional outbursts were happening because I never allowed myself to express frustrations or irritations in life. I was afraid to speak out about things I wasn’t happy with for fear of offending someone and they wouldn’t like me anymore. The big explosive moments were the end product of multiple unexpressed stuffed emotions.
She invited me to practice expressing the smallest of irritations and things I was unhappy about. I started practicing at work. The 24 men I worked with in the electronics lab didn’t know what hit them. My finesse for expressing my dissatisfactions wasn’t very shiny. The floodgates of emotions started to pour out of me. The more I practiced the better I got at expressing my emotions in the moment. The best result? The crazy emotional outbursts disappeared.
My emotional outburst turned out to be a gift that signaled me that something needed to change. I grew up believing that anger was not okay. Now I know that emotions are a powerful part of being a human being.
Today, I am so grateful for breaking through my old conversations about emotions and especially anger. Anger, irritation and displeasure expressed in the moment are healthy. Avoiding those same emotions like they don’t exist is not.
My goal is clearly expressing my feelings while holding myself and the another whole and complete. It did not happen overnight. With practice, emoting frustrations or irritations became the biggest gift not only for myself, but also for others. End results? Life became easier and happier.