The wisdom of emotions


Emotions. Messy, ravishing, and rich. From heartbreak to the heights of ecstasy, what are emotions really and what purpose do they serve? In our physical body, we have our senses. From hunger to cold, or feeling tingling in our feet. In our mind, we have our thoughts, where we think, reflect, and discuss with ourselves. And lastly, we have our emotions – as random, irrational, and uncontrollable as they are. Passing and transient, like the clouds in the sky and the waves of the ocean.


So when we’re told to control our emotions, it doesn’t make sense. We can’t control what we feel, but we can control what we do about it. As humans, we have 9 basic emotions. Anger, anxiety, joy, curiosity, love, shame, disgust, shock and grief. They all have many different nuances and levels of intensity, between which we must learn how we’re feeling, so we can deal with it correctly. If we think we’re sad, but we’re feeling ashamed, that needs a different response from us.

Yet most of us don’t learn in school how to manage our emotions. The world of academia tends to be more mind-focused, telling us to suppress how we feel. So how do we use our emotions rather than having them use us? 


The first thing we must understand is that emotions are a dangerous foundation for decision-making. Because emotions are always moving from one moment to the next. Rather, our values should define our decisions. Our feelings can be very challenging to handle and feel, yet we must remember that they’re not dangerous. Since they’re built on our past, our feelings shouldn’t be our compass. Rather, what we feel is how we experience life.


Feelings are what makes life worth living, even with all the pain and difficulty they carry. There are no good or bad feelings, just those that are pleasant and those that are unpleasant. They all carry a message and a need for us. For example, if I’m afraid to lose my partner, the fear reminds me that they matter to me. If I’m angry, the anger reminds me to protect and assert myself. Emotions are the basic ingredients in keeping us alive. This is why depression is so difficult, as a depressed person is feeling nothing, suppressing it all.

Where there’s a lot of light and life, there’s also a lot of pain and darkness, a dance of polarities. No feelings mean no life. As children, we’re often conditioned to believe that some feelings aren’t welcome. For example, many women can’t be angry and many men can’t be sad. And if we carry that belief, we start beating ourselves up, thinking: “I shouldn’t be feeling this way”.


Yet emotional self-censorship is a very bad idea. As babies, we naturally feel everything without judgment, before our society, our parents, and our authorities shut us down. Many of our parents have failed in a way, as they didn’t separate our feelings and us as a person. Perhaps saying: “Don’t be hysterical” rather than “I won’t accept you throw stuff at me”.

The best thing we can do is to allow and notice everything we’re feeling. And then ask ourselves: “What does this emotion want to tell me?” and then respond rather than just react blindly. All feelings are designed to fully be felt. Like the notes of an instrument, they are all important for our life experience.


Shutting some parts of us and our feelings down creates a lot of loneliness. The paradox is that we want to be loved fully, yet we’re afraid to show ourselves fully as a result of the wounds from our past. Wounds that are created in relationships must be healed in relationships. We must all find relationships that can hold our vulnerability, instead of hiding, numbing, and running from those dark and difficult parts of ourselves. Because we can’t escape them.

Showing hurt, shame, and vulnerability immediately connects us deeply to others. Much deeper than when we share only our joys. This depth creates a connection, which is healing both for us and for the one listening. 


Fear of being abandoned by others often results in us abandoning ourselves. So we have to take the chance and dare to lean into vulnerability. Hiding also robs the other person of the chance to feel connected and special to us. When we open up, it tells the other person: “I care about you and I trust you’. Sharing something very unpleasant can then turn into something very beautiful between us.


Remember that we’re all similar beings and every one of us has felt hurt, rejected, and insecure. No matter how sharp and classy other people look, chances are that they’re also somewhat confused and messy on the inside. Our emotions are what make our lives colorful, and they are a shortcut to connection. This is key. Just remember, feelings aren’t facts. Practice saying ‘I feel angry’ vs. ‘I am angry’. 


A great and simple exercise is to take a pen and ask yourself or your partner: “What am I feeling, what’s taking up space?” Then follow up with the question: “What does this do to me?” Lastly, ask: “What do I need, what can I do with this?” This exercise is simple, effective, and very calming. And it helps the feelings move through you, ‘name it to tame it’. This can be a daily journaling practice of self-discovery and cultivating emotional intelligence. What we don’t discover, we can’t share or integrate.