We hold hard-wired beliefs about everything.
Thinking we should dress a certain way.
Not expressing vulnerability because otherwise we’ll be perceived as “weak.”
Associating gender with specific colors.
We can be actively aware of some of our beliefs, while other biases sit hidden under the surface. Either way, they’re there, and they shape the choices we make and how we perceive our world.
Holding beliefs about something is not inherently a bad thing, especially if we bring those beliefs into conscious awareness. If we don’t become aware of the beliefs we hold, we continue to operate from the basis of those beliefs just the same. The issue there is: they may or not be true. Just because we hold a belief about something doesn’t mean that belief is true. Part of working with our emotions is learning to get curious, rather than judgemental, about our emotions and consider if we are holding any beliefs about them that are preventing their unique messages from being heard.
The definition of judgment is “the evaluation of information or evidence to make a decision”. And judgment isn’t inherently a bad thing! We need a sense of judgment for many things in our lives. When we judge our emotions (or anything), we are considering the information at hand and making a decision about it, which many times can be a value decision about whether this or that is right or wrong. Those kinds of decisions are usually based on beliefs that we are unaware of holding. Curiosity invites us to keep asking questions: why, what if, how, where did that come from? Through curiosity, we can open ourselves up to additional information we didn’t have when we jumped straight to judgment. Curiosity and openness allow us to start to identify where old beliefs and stories about emotions aren’t serving us; by asking more deeply where they come from and if they are still true.
In Part 1 of this series, we discussed what emotions are and a practice for identifying them. Now, we’ll dig in a little deeper and get curious about the beliefs we hold about certain emotions, and how to invite curiosity when emotions arise.
Emotions are an intricate and unique language that we can use to get curious about ourselves and our experiences. They alert us to a shift in our inner or outer worlds. Emotions themselves are neutral- there are no “good” or “bad” emotions. They are simply energy. However, growing up I DEFINITELY absorbed stories and grew to believe that emotions held moral value.
When I was 11, after experiencing a traumatic event, I felt exceptionally out of control and would experience bouts of extreme anger. At 11, I didn’t have the resources I do now, and when I expressed that anger it felt violent and scary. I didn’t want to feel it. Until very recently, I held a belief that anger was a dangerous emotion to feel, and I could not control myself when I was angry. That belief really held me back in experiencing the full spectrum of my anger and understanding how it could be a tool to help me in my life.
Around the same age, 11 or 12, I developed beliefs about sadness as well. I felt very alone, and like no one understood what was going on inside of me. As the oldest child, I felt a deep responsibility to be perfect and have my shit together because, well, I was the oldest and I had to be a good example to my sister. Crying, especially in public, as I got older brought up shame because I didn’t want people to know I was sad or unhappy- leaning into a belief I developed about needing to be perceived as “perfect” and “the one who has it all together.”
Gender roles can also be involved in the beliefs we hold about emotions. How many times have you heard “women aren’t supposed to get angry” or “anger is a male emotion.” What about sadness, or grief? “Be a man,” “crying is for girls,” etc. Regardless of how I feel about gender and dismantling that binary at this point in my life, these gendered views of emotions were definitely a part of my childhood and early adult experience.
You can see how the unconscious beliefs I held about emotions affected the way I experienced them throughout my life. And when I started to become aware of the beliefs I held about emotions, I realized that some of them weren’t true.
This is crucial: not all the beliefs we hold are true and in alignment with our values.
Let me repeat that: not all the beliefs we hold are true and in alignment with our values.
The belief that anger was a dangerous emotion for me to feel at a certain point wasn’t true anymore. Yet I was still unconsciously operating from that belief, from that place as if it was true. I wasn’t able to fully express or experience anger because I held a belief about it that wasn’t accurate.
When emotions arise, they bring with them the opportunity to get curious. Not only about the message they are sharing with us, but about the beliefs we hold about that emotion and how that can color our response. Curiosity invites us to bring the unconscious into the conscious and operate from a more aligned space. Once we start to get curious and release the stories we’ve been unconsciously holding onto, we can feel into the flow of our emotional life.
Getting curious about if we are judging ourselves for having an emotional response requires us first to be able to name that we are feeling an emotion and what that emotion might be. (That’s why part one was important, hehe.)
Once it gets more familiar to name what’s arising, we can ask a few questions, including but not limited to:
What am I feeling?
Am I placing judgment on myself for feeling or acting a certain way right now?
Is that judgment true?
Is there a message here for me?
IMPORTANT NOTE: I certainly have emotional days where I just need to feel my feelings and not get curious about why I am feeling them, or think about if my judgments about my emotions are true or not. Sometimes the time to get curious is while you are feeling things, and sometimes it’s after the height of the emotional experience.
TLDR; curiosity about your emotions can happen anytime.
I invite you to take 5-10 minutes this week to free-write all the beliefs or associations you have about 3 different emotions. Then, get curious about where those beliefs might have come from. Ask yourself: are they still true? How do your beliefs about emotions perhaps affect how you currently experience them?
Let me know what you discover. PS: an interlude on empathy is coming soon.