Accepting Emotions

For one of the classes I’m going to be taking this summer, I’m currently reading Words Made Flesh: Scripture, Psychology & Human Communication by Fran Ferder, first published in 1986 by Ave Maria Press. It’s a wonderful book, and the chapter I read this afternoon reminded me of a moment I’d like to share with y’all.*

Some time during my college career, I was walking across campus. I vividly remember I was on the path near Penrose Library, headed toward Ankeny. (It may have been my first year at Whitman, since I was on a trajectory that would take me to Lyman, the best residence hall open to freshmen there.)

I don’t remember what sparked the initial feeling**, but here’s the path of emotions and thoughts I went through:

  1. I felt angry.
  2. I felt bad for feeling angry, and tried to suppress the feeling, to make it more acceptable.
  3. I realized that part of what was causing me to try to suppress my feeling of anger was an ingrained social expectation that women don’t get angry.
  4. I then decided to let myself feel angry. Because it was justified anger and frustration with the situation.

That moment happened while I was heavily involved with the feminist student group on campus, so my reaction was specifically tied to gender expectations, but there are other facets of my personal conditioning which influence this tendency to deny negative emotions. Namely, as I have been reading about today, a history of the Church teaching that feelings such as anger and jealousy are sinful, and thus should be avoided.

But the problem with avoiding negative emotions altogether is that it’s pretty much impossible. There’s a reason that people come with built-in emotions, whether you personally attribute it to biology or to God, they are helpful, and even necessary!

In my own personal journey, I think I’m getting better all the time at appropriately expressing my feelings. I’m a whole lot more assertive now than I was ten years ago, sometimes to the point of being heedlessly blunt. It’s an ongoing struggle for me to balance my impulse to express my feelings and reactions against my impulse to care for those around me. Often, my immediate reaction to something is not one that I wish to share with the general public. In those moments, I am super-grateful for consistently-online friends who know me well enough to act as a sounding-board.

Twice in the last 8 hours, in fact, I have shared the gist of what somebody posted on Facebook with a close friend, and then shared with her what I *wish* I could say in response to those posts. Today, these comments called out sexism, not-funny jokes, and a culture of fear. But instead of either totally suppressing these opinions, or starting flame-wars and hurting feelings, I had the opportunity to discuss my feelings and motivations behind them with my friend. She, in her wisdom, encouraged me to keep my snark to myself, at least on Facebook.

What are the things you struggle with, related to emotions and how to express them?


*This is my new strategy for not letting the blog lie dormant too long: post short things that I’m thinking about.

**And I totally just went reading my livejournal posts from my first year of college to try to figure it out. This, friends, is why I don’t get around to posting on here terribly often. I get distracted WAY TOO EASILY.


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