I ask my child clients this question all the time:
Which feelings are OK?
And, pretty much every time, they tell me “happy”. And maybe they will look at their parent if the parent is in the room.
But, let’s be real, as adults, we kinda feel the same way.
Maybe we intellectually understand that all feelings are OK, but the easy ones: happy, loved, excited, inspired are the ones that are actually OK for us and for others to feel because we don’t try to resist those.
The Human Emotional System works more like the Universe rather that the physical world because it works in paradoxes. The physical world is mostly straightforward.
Here is what I mean:
Physical pain is unpleasant, so you stop doing whatever is causing you the pain. The emotional system is more like: if it hurts, go toward it to find out what’s up.
I catch myself trying to stop, fix or resist unpleasant emotions all the time. And I’m the one writing about this. So, let’s take the judgment right out of feeling like unpleasant emotions are not welcome.
It’s natural to resist unpleasant experiences.
But, as you know, emotional health is being able to tolerate the entire range of human emotion. That means you practice allowing feelings and you don’t try to stop them or make yourself wrong for them.
In basic terms, this means: All feelings are OK.
That being said, it is important to talk about a healthy window of emotional intensity.
There is the range of emotion (that I mentioned above), but there is also the intensity of emotion (think ‘x’ and ‘y’ axis). There is a window of emotional intensity that is healthy. You don’t want to be numb, but you also don’t want to be caught in a huge storm of emotion every minute.
Every person’s window of healthy emotion is going to be different based on their personality and disposition.
So, someone who might be more sensitive all around or more expressive might have a window of health that goes a little bit higher on the scale of intensity compared to someone who is more reserved or able to detach from feelings more easily. There is not a “better” way to be. Just how you are is perfect.
The healthy window goes from being able to notice a feeling (lower end of the window) to pushing your comfort zone a little with that feeling (higher end of the window).
Realize that there are going to be certain emotions for you that are more intolerable for you than others, so your window of health on that one is going to be smaller. For example, shame and loneliness are probably hardest for me. So, initial contact with either of those will easily put me close to the top of that window of health.
Also, recognize that there are certain triggers you probably have that will take you right to the top of that window quickly. Usually this will be because it is related to something that has happened in your past. For example, I have a hard time with feeling like I have disappointed someone. A situation where I believe someone feels I have disappointed them will quickly take me to the top of the window of health on guilt or anger toward myself.
The point is to know yourself.
What is your window of emotional health?
What are the feelings that are most unpleasant to you or situations that trigger intense responses from you? Know this so you can take care of yourself and navigate your emotional system with more ease. That way, you’ll have time for more of the pleasant things in life.
The idea is that the unpleasant emotions are there to teach us, tell us about ourselves and about what we need or want.
Experiencing them is like riding a bike up a hill. But, then you get to the other side and cruise downhill. No one ever got fit from only riding downhill. The downhill feels awesome once you’ve accomplished that uphill climb.