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“If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions… then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.” ~Daniel Goleman

There are three ways in which we respond to people, events, and situations—three ways we sort through, make sense of, and file away our feelings.

We either repress, suppress, or express them.

When we repress, our unconscious files a memory or the feelings surrounding it deep in the basement of our brains without our conscious assistance.

Under extreme stress that we’re not able to manage consciously, our unconscious does the work on our behalf and steps in to protect us. This is often the case with children who have been sexually abused; the memories are there, but not accessible to the conscious mind because it is incapable of dealing with or making sense of them. (Yet)

Suppression is different.

When we suppress our feelings, we are making a conscious decision not to feel what it is that we’re feeling. We deny our feelings, push them away, pretend they’re not there.

We suppress to avoid.

People do this for all kinds of reasons: they think they have no right to feel what they feel; they think societal norms prevent them from doing so; they are embarrassed by their feelings; they are confused by them; they lack the language to interpret them…

Suppression is not to be confused with shelving, or “bracketing” our feelings at certain times, due to professional constraints, but with the intention of returning to and dealing with them later. With suppression, there’s rarely an intention to return to and sort through the messy feelings they’ve denied in the past.

And then there’s express, which is always the healthiest long-term choice for emotional mastery—depending, of course, on the manner of expression.

Healthy expression of emotions depends on first becoming aware of them.

There are untold numbers of people walking around expressing suppressed emotions all over the place, hurling their hidden hurts at others indiscriminately.

Feelings will always out, sometimes sideways.

You’d be shocked at the number of folks who have suppressed their feelings for so long that they have atrophied, like some unused muscle, and no longer even know what they’re feeling nor why.

I’ve lived long enough to witness the ruthless determination of suppressed emotions to seep through into the hearts of those who have tried for so long to outrun them.

Like the story of the tortoise and the hare, the damn things are persistent, and will eventually win.

It may take a decade—or four—but suppressed emotions will out.

That’s why journaling, or meditation, or therapy or group work is helpful to many people: it’s a place to sort and file away those feelings, even if there is no one else present.

Healthy expression of our feelings is a learned skill.

And it puts responsibility for the quality of your internal life squarely on your shoulders.

Sorry ‘bout that.

“Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.” ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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