Most of us have experienced painful emotions in life. We have felt feelings we would prefer not to feel. Emotions such as sadness and fear often feel very uncomfortable: they cause our bodies to feel sensations like tightening in the chest and throat, racing heart rate, and knotting in the stomach. It’s hard to know what to do when these feelings last a long time or become overwhelming. In addition, I believe that our society doesn’t really teach us how to process and express emotions in healthy ways. In fact, many of us are socialized to suppress them, and this causes a whole host of problems.
Despite the trouble emotions can cause, I believe that emotions are really superpowers. Why do we avoid our emotions? For one thing, they can get us into trouble. Strong emotions create urges that are not always wise to act on. However, suppressing how we feel can cause us to suffer more and miss out on vital aspects of life.
So then how can we be comfortable with our emotions appropriately without suppressing them? How can we engage our superpowers? I like to think of emotions as both data and fuel. They give us very important information about our lives, and they give us the energy we need to get things done.
Marsha Linehan, creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), instructs in her DBT Skills Handouts and Worksheets that emotions have three functions: “to motivate us, to communicate to and influence others, and to communicate to ourselves” (Linehan, 2014).
In realizing how emotions give us energy, connect us to the people around us, and provide information about our lives, we can start to appreciate and pay close attention to our affect. This way, we can observe how they make us feel physiologically, and accept all sensations, even when some may be very uncomfortable. Then, we can listen to what our emotions are trying to tell us. Is there something we need or want? Is there something we need to do? Is there someone we need to talk to? Do we simply need to allow the emotion to pass while practicing self-care?
Utilizing emotional data and fuel is the quickest way to tap into your superpowers.