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A new client recently shared that, as a kid, they made the decision that feelings were dangerous. What do you do with your emotions? Are they safe to acknowledge and share with others, or do they need to be concealed and ignored?

As a child, we had to figure out which emotions were safe to acknowledge and express in our family. Maybe it was safe for Dad or Mom to get really angry, but way out of bounds for you to even complain. Was it ok for you to be afraid or show when you were hurt, or did expressing those emotions get you into more trouble? I remember a friend’s dad saying to my buddy Danny, “If you’re going to cry, I’ll give you something to cry about!” Message received.

My folks never argued or expressed anger, so I never learned how to deal with it. My first wife’s parents were experts at fighting, so you can imagine how well I faired in those early battles. It wasn’t until after the Marine Corps that I finally was able to acknowledge fear and anger. Hurt and shame took a lot longer.

What was safe for you to acknowledge and share? What did you do with all of those emotions that weren’t safe to show? If you’re like the rest of us, you learned to shove them down and keep them securely stored in that inner cave in your gut. As many clients have recognized, the cost of keeping their emotional backlog in check is often at least 40% or more of their energy. With no return on that investment, it keeps us playing small and trying to stay safe, rather than opening our hearts and being fully in our power.

The sad thing is that our emotional feelings are really a fantastic sixth sense. Our awareness of them can make all the difference in how successful we are and how much we enjoy our life. Emotions are really just indicators letting us know that there is something going on in our life. If we can breathe and be present with them, we’ll see they are not actually dictating how to react, but to just be more aware.

Here’s how to start getting in touch with your feelings: Acknowledge to yourself, “I’m feeling ________ (anger, fear, sad, hurt, shame, or guilt), so what is going on? What thought or event is triggering that feeling? Are there deeper memories or issues underlying these feelings? What am I becoming aware of within myself that needs attention and is perhaps ready to be healed?

All emotions can benefit us by our awareness of them, yet not all emotions require action. With emotions being “energy in motion” or indicators just moving through us, you can also ask yourself, “In this situation, is it appropriate to run, fight, or freeze?” If none of these actions are really called for, then perhaps you can just breathe and appreciate that, “In this moment, I’m fine.”

If you ever feel like life is an emotional pinball game and you’re just the flippers, then maybe it’s time to make friends with your feelings and gain access to all of the information, wisdom, and insight that they offer. When you do, you reconnect with a power and a passion unfamiliar to most, but sought after by many. I’m here for you if you’d like my help with that.