The Healing Power of Emotions
Updated: Dec 30, 2021
“To live a full and connected life in the face of difficulty and even tragedy requires the capacity to feel and make use of our emotional experience.” - Diana Fosha
Feelings play a central part in the healing journey. However, I find many puzzled faces sitting across from me when I inquire about my patients’ emotional experiences. In many ways, our society has conditioned us to value our cognitive, rational minds and devalue our emotional minds. Many people feel a sense of pride when they describe themselves as “very logical.” While being rational and logical can be helpful traits, they sometimes come at the cost of causing us to minimize or disavow our emotional experiences. I often call upon an analogy to help patients understand what happens when we disconnect from our feelings. I say something like this:
Imagine your sense of self as a home. Right now as you engage in life with only your rational and logical mind, the home is muted. Perhaps it is lacking in color or texture, perhaps even some rooms are completely unexplored. When you connect with all aspects of your human experience - i.e. both emotional and logical - the home that was once dull and robbed of color and texture, becomes vibrant and alive. Similarly to this home that now feels more dynamic and textured, our sense of self and our relationships become richer and more alive when we connect with our emotional selves.
So what is it about connecting with our emotions that can be so healing?
Take a moment and consider a time when your experience has been truly understood and validated by someone. This can be as simple as your partner giving you a long embrace after an especially stressful day at work, or perhaps that one friend who knows how to hold space for you when you’re going through something difficult. What many of us feel in these moments is a sense of relief. Having our experiences acknowledged and validated is soothing. And yet, many of us struggle to acknowledge and validate our own emotional experiences. When we invalidate our own emotional experiences, we are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, along with several other mental health conditions. Although it may be frightening and overwhelming to finally acknowledge our own emotional lives, it can also be deeply healing. Furthermore, when this healing is done in the context of a relationship, such as therapy, we can feel even more seen and understood.
Not only does feeling emotionally seen provide healing and bring about a sense of relief, but it can also pave the way for more meaningful and authentic connections with others. Without deep feeling, there can’t be deep relation. When we connect with our own emotions, we begin to feel empowered to share more openly, and people can have the chance to understand us on a deeper level. When our emotions are held and cared for by others, we feel more secure in our attachments, which can bring about a host of healthy shifts in how we relate to others.
This next point might be more digestible for the logical thinkers, so consider this: emotions are signals that something of significance is occurring. When we turn away from these signals, we are turning away from important data about ourselves. However, deeper awareness and understanding of ourselves are gained when we allow emotions to be a guide or source of information. When we follow the emotions we feel, we are able to tap into something deeper within ourselves. For example, if I notice that during an exchange that I feel hurt by a friend, I can recognize that feeling as a signal that indicates that something has occurred that doesn’t feel good for me. If I acknowledge this hurt feeling, I can act upon it and let my friend know. If I don’t use this feeling as data and instead work to push it to the side, it will likely lead to some emotional build-up such as resentment which would not only be toxic for the relationship but would negatively impact me as well.
Lastly, when we acknowledge and accept our emotions we are able to learn how to regulate them, rather than let them regulate us. We feel empowered to use them as a signal to connect fully with our authentic selves, rather than spending considerable effort trying to shut down a part of ourselves. Additionally, consider how allowing yourself to experience emotion that was long feared confers a sense of mastery. Similarly to how we overcome other obstacles or roadblocks in our lives, when we confront what has been avoided, we feel empowered.
Sometimes people struggle to know where to even begin with getting in touch with their emotional experience. If you struggle with this, know that psychotherapy can be a step towards getting the guidance and tools you need to build a bridge to connect you with your emotions.