Sometimes it seems that we are at war with our feelings.  We tell ourselves not to be sad, upset, or hurt. We say that we should feel grateful, or be more positive. Constantly, we focus on what we should and should not feel, what we’re allowed, as if feelings come in prescribed doses or play by a set of rules.  We make judgments about which of our feelings are just, and which are criminal. We want our emotions to follow logic.

Take for instance, a break-up.  The thinking goes that the longer you’re in a relationship with someone, the more grief that you should have about its ending.  A relationship of a few weeks and you’re not even allowed to cry (although I’d have to consult my Acceptable Emotions Chart to be sure).

But, of course, many of us have had the experience of being deeply affected by someone that we met only briefly.  The heart is far less interested in time spent, and much more in the connection to the parts of a person that mirror your own self.  It is not concerned with your timeline or your emotion rule book. It doesn’t care that you think it’s inappropriate to want someone who now does not want you.

All in all, we often waste precious time and energy avoiding and/or fighting our emotions.  Unfortunately, it’s a losing battle. Focusing on what you’re supposed to feel only costs you in the long run. But we can break this cycle.


The Cost of Avoidance

When you avoid your own emotional experience, it has a tendency to leak into other areas of your life. You may find yourself responding out loud (instead of inside your head) to the co-worker who irritates you.  Or you might find yourself distracted or having difficulty focusing on completing tasks. You may lash out in anger or cry unexpectedly. However they appear, our emotions shine through, regardless of our efforts to keep them in the dark.

Further, in some ways feelings operate much like thoughts—if you try really hard not to think about a big red door with a shiny gold handle, that door is all that you will be able to see in your mind’s eye. Telling your emotions they shouldn’t be what they are is just as effective.  Not only do the feelings not go away, but they sometimes become even more intense because of your efforts to suppress them.

A Better Way

There is a better way than fighting your emotions. It’s allowing yourself to truly feel, without judgment, without analysis. Stand in the feeling and recognize it for what it is. Let go of any shame or guilt that appears around having this emotion.

If you’re going through something particularly difficult, give yourself the space to let the emotions happen.  If it helps, have a ritual—an activity you do each time that you have to wrestle with uncomfortable emotions. When I’m upset, my go-to activity is sad music at full volume while going for a drive.  I throw myself a pity party for one and fully embrace whatever lousy way I’m feeling.  Having a plan for what to do when you experience strong emotions provides you with a method to fully express them, and also helps you avoid engaging in reactive behaviors that might make the situation worse.


There is a peace that comes after you accept your emotions for what they are. Feelings can hurt (and Tylenol helps), but in and of themselves, they cannot break you. You are not weak for having them or expressing them or accepting them. After the feeling subsides, you remain.   Shaken, maybe, but ultimately stronger for it.