Emotional intelligence is not how infrequently you feel anything “bad” because you’ve developed the discipline and wisdom “not to.” It’s not how easily you choose what you think, how you let it affect you, or how placidly you react to any given situation.
Real emotional maturity is how thoroughly you let yourself feel anything. Everything. Whatever comes. It is simply the knowing that the worst thing that could ever happen… is just a feeling at the end of the day.
That’s it! A feeling. Imagine the very worst, the only thing bad about it is… how you would feel about it. What you would make it out to be, what you’d assume the repercussions mean, and how those would ultimately affect… how you feel.
A sense of fear, a pinch or throb or sting. A hunger pang or ego kick. The sense of worthlessness, the idea of not belonging. (Interesting how physical feelings are always quick and transient, but the ideas we hold of pain always seem to stick around…)
But we avoid feeling anything because we have more or less been taught that our feelings have lives of their own. That they’ll carry on forever if we give them even a moment of our awareness.
Have you ever felt joy for more than a few minutes? What about anger? No? How about tension, depression and sadness? Those have lasted longer, haven’t they? Weeks and months and years at a time, right?
That’s because those aren’t feelings. They are symptoms. But we’ll get to their causes in a minute.
What you have to know is that suffering is just the refusal to accept what is. That’s it. Etymologically, it comes from the Latin word to “from below to bear.” Or, to “resist, endure, put under.”
So healing is really just letting yourself feel.
It is unearthing your traumas and embarrassments and losses and allowing yourself the emotions that you could not have in the moment that you were having those experiences. It’s letting yourself filter and process what you had to suppress at the time to keep going, maybe even to survive.
We all fear that our feelings are too big, especially in the moment we’re actually having them. We were taught not be too loving, we’d get hurt; too smart, we’d get bullied; too fearful, we’d be vulnerable. To be compliant with what other people wanted us to feel. As kids we were punished for crying out if our emotional experience wasn’t in accordance with our parent’s convenience. (No wonder we still respond the way we do.)
The point is that you aren’t the one who is afraid of feeling too much. It’s the people who called you crazy and dramatic and wrong. The people who don’t know how to handle it, who want you to stay where you are. Those are the people who want you to keep not feeling. Not you. You know how I know?
Because your numbness isn’t feeling nothing, it’s feeling everything, and never having learned to process anything at all. Numbness is not nothing, neutral is nothing. Numbness is everything at once.
Because your sadness is saying, I am still attached to something being different. Your guilt is saying “I fear I have done bad in someone’s eyes,” and your shame, “I fear I am bad in someone’s eyes.”
Your anxiety is your resistance to the process, your last grasps at a control you are becoming more and more aware that you do not have. Your tiredness is your resistance to who you really are, the person you actually want to be. Your annoyance is your repressed anger. Your depression, biological factors aside of course, is everything coming to the surface, and you bellowing down to stow it away.
And your arrival at the conclusion that you cannot go on like this, that you’re missing out, that you’re off track and feeling stuck and lost, is you realizing that you need not change your feelings. You just have to learn to lean into them and see what they are trying to tell you.
Trying to change how you feel is like finding a road sign that points in the opposite direction of where you had intended to go and getting out to try to turn the sign, rather than your course of action.
And what happens when we stow away the emotions that accompany our experiences, never give ourselves time to process, try to force ourselves into feeling any given way at any given time, is we disregard what will give us the ultimate peace: just allowing, without judgment.
So it’s not about changing how you feel. It’s about listening. Not accepting what they appear to mean – that’s important – but really following your instincts down to what they are trying to signal. They are how you communicate with yourself.
Every feeling is worthwhile. You miss so much by trying to change every one of them away, or thinking there are some that are right or wrong or good or bad or that you should have or shouldn’t, all because you’re afraid that you’ll tell yourself something you don’t want to hear.
The feelings you most suppress are the most important ways you guide yourself. Your apprehension to listen is not your own desire. It’s fear of being something more or less or greater or worse or simply different than those around you have implied they will accept.
When you choose to value having other people’s acceptance over your own, you accept a fate of battling your instincts to assimilate to the needs of other people’s egos. In the meantime, a world and lifetime of listening, leaning, allowing, following, perceiving, feeling and experiencing… constantly eludes you.
Sadness will not kill you. Depression won’t either. But fighting it will. Ignoring it will. Trying to escape it rather than confront it will. Denying it will. Suffocating it will. Allowing it no place to go other than your deep subconscious to embed and control you will. Not that you’ll take your life or destroy everything “good” you do receive (though you might).
But it will kill you in that it will rob you of every bit of life you do have: you either let yourself feel everything, or numb yourself into feeling nothing. You cannot select emotions. You are either in accord with their flow, or in resistance and attachment to the nature of them. In the end, the choice is yours.