Allow Emotions to be Present
Today we’re talking about emotional allowing through journaling.
I’m hoping you will learn some strategies about how to feel and allow your emotions through journaling.
Why am I even talking about allowing emotions with journaling today?
For some people, this might seem like such an obvious topic. It doesn’t even need its own podcast episode.
For other people, they might think “I don’t even know what she’s talking about right now. What does allowing emotions even mean?”
In my daily journal prompt facebook group, we recently had a prompt about allowing emotions, and one of the members responded: “allow them to do what?”
The short answer is: Allow emotions to be present.
What’s the Opposite of Allowing Emotions?
Sometimes when I want to explain what something means, I will think of the opposite first, because when I know what it’s not, I have a better idea of what it is.
So, my first question is: what’s the opposite of allowing emotions? Just from a grammar perspective, it would be disallowing emotions. Not allowing emotions means as an emotion comes to us, instead of feeling it, welcoming it, experiencing it, and processing it, we try not to feel it. We try not to experience it. We don’t welcome it and we certainly don’t process the emotion.
The reason why we might not experience, welcome, process, and in other words, allow emotions, is because some emotions might feel harmful. Emotions like anger, sadness, disappointment, embarrassment, frustration, and so many more, do not feel great, so it makes sense that we wouldn’t want to allow them to be present.
Are Emotions Harmful
Are some emotions a problem? Do emotions hurt us? Do we need to heal from emotions? Are emotions harmful?
I am choosing to believe that all emotions have value. The fact that we have the range of emotions we do, in our human experience today, means that there’s some purpose for that emotion to have stuck around throughout our evolutionary process.
I don’t know that we need to heal from emotions, but sometimes we do need to heal from the effects of repressing and resisting them. We need to heal when we don’t allow emotions.
When we repress and resist emotions, the physical byproduct or the physical effects can be a cortisol dump, tension, and misalignment in our bodies.
There’s also something called emotional leakage.
When you hold back your feelings, it doesn’t keep those emotions hidden from yourself or other people. The emotions and effects of trying to hold them off leak through.
If you’ve ever cried at something that wasn’t really that sad, it might be because you were trying to avoid sadness in a different, bigger area.
If you’ve ever blown up over something pretty minor, it might be because you’re actually very angry about something else and you’re not allowing the anger in.
We know that emotions leak through because so often, other people can sense we’re not fine, when we untruthfully answer “I’m fine.”
Another downside of not allowing emotions is feeling on guard and not being able to relax or regulate ourselves.
Journaling to Allow Emotions
The opposite of bottling up (or stuffing down or not allowing) emotions is to accept and embrace.
Journaling can be a place where you can release and express and examine your emotions in a safe and healthy way. But even in the relative safety of your journal, allowing and processing your emotions can still feel very uncomfortable and maybe awkward.
Last week when Sheridan and I talked about getting started with journaling, we shared that it’s normal to expect to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you first start your journaling practice.
Sometimes people come to journaling specifically during times of trauma, chaos, and despair. So it’s possible that your entries would be full of traumatic, chaotic, and desperate thoughts.
First of all, that is a great release and relief.
Secondly, journaling about those things can help you discharge some of the emotion. But, writing about trauma, chaos, and despair does not create a great mood around journaling. It might make you feel like journaling is not the wonderful experience that you hear about from seasoned journalers.
Processing your emotions and allowing your emotions in journaling is beneficial, even when it does not feel great. If you experience this awkward discomfort, it’s OK. It is part of the process.
Journaling as an Emotion Regulator
Think of journaling as your emotion regulation strategy (along with talking with friends or a coach or therapist, doing exercise, meditation, and all types of other self care).
Emotional regulation can mean rethinking and challenging a situation in your mind – the perfect place to do this is in the pages of your journal.
Write out the situation, and as you do, notice the all or nothing thinking, exaggerations, assumptions, future telling and other ways your mind might be offering you fearful and unhelpful thoughts that may be self-defeating.
Notice how much you vent and dump when you write and remind yourself to balance the emotional writing with other types of writing too.
Other types of writing could include using empowering prompts or doing some gratitude journaling, or just like I did, at the start of this episode, consider the opposite to what you were thinking just to give yourself something else to think and write about. It opens your mind. Balanced writing helps you see variations and possibilities that you don’t necessarily see when you’re only venting and dumping.
Recognizing Appropriate Emotions
The next question I have for you about journaling to allow emotions is do you think you can recognize the appropriate emotions for any given situation?
Have you ever heard of emotional bypassing?
Emotional bypassing is a way of resisting uncomfortable feelings, inauthentically replacing those uncomfortable feelings with false positivity, rationalizing your emotions, or even just ignoring them. (But even if you try to bypass them, they can still leak out!)
Sometimes, you can recognize a change in your mood and emotions through noticing your handwriting and the grip on your pen as you write. Flip back through the pages of your journal to see the different moods on the different entries.
I heard a podcast interview once where a woman was talking about how she had a conversation with her friend and was describing an upsetting situation. The friend said “wow it sounds like you were very angry “and the woman said “no I’m not angry I’m sad” and upon further reflection, she realized, actually, she was angry, and she should be angry.
The situation justified her anger, but she was so accustomed to bottling up or pushing away her anger, instead, her mind thought “sad” was an appropriate emotion for her to feel.
As soon as she allowed herself to be angry, instead of sad, she actually had more clarity, and she had a better sense of how she wanted to respond.
Luckily, she had a friend to point out that she could feel angry instead of sad. So if you are not telling every situation to your friends, or if your friend is not as perceptive as this woman’s friend, journaling can help.
As you write about your own life events and your feelings about them, you can check to see if you are bypassing any emotions. Are you trying to rationalize them? Or replace them with something that seems a little more socially acceptable?
My Own Authentic Emotions Story
I’ve been going through so many emotions lately because I was involved in a renovation which is not the most aligning experience for me. It’s not my preferred way to spend time. and To complicate things, the experience took almost twice as long as I expected, so not only was it an out-of-preference experience for me it also did not meet my expectations, making me very frustrated and impatient.
My husband and I were working on the renovation together (more him than me).
As I’ve mentioned before, we are a very “opposite attract” type of couple. We have different communication styles, different thinking styles and different problem-solving preferences so we butted heads a number of times over the past few months, which also Increased my frustration and decreased my patience.
I was getting tired of disagreeing with him and I was getting tired of being on opposite sides with him when one day, we were driving and another car behaved in a way that we didn’t like (going too slow or not merging correctly or whatever).
My husband, in the privacy of our own car, started complaining and name-calling about the other driver. In those cases, I will usually try to neutralize whatever is happening, just because I don’t think the added cortisol is warranted for something as insignificant as a non-impact traffic disagreement.
Usually I would’ve said something like “oh just let him go the speed he wants to go.” In this one afternoon, in the midst of our month-long, frequent disagreements and arguments, and noticing how tired I was of disagreeing, and realizing the stakes were so low sitting there in the privacy of our car, I decided to wholeheartedly agree with him about this other driver.
My Inauthentic Anger Outburst
He said something like “people need to learn how to drive!” I chimed in -very enthusiastically- with “Yeah, this crazy guy totally doesn’t know how to drive! what is he even doing?” I have to say it was so fun and funny. It wasn’t completely authentic to me – I wasn’t really angry at the other driver. But I enjoyed sharing the same mood as my husband at that moment. It was kind of fun to play a different emotional role than I usually do.
I think I even surprised my husband with my out-of-character reaction and agreement with his angry shouting. As I thought about that exchange later, I just laughed at myself and the ridiculousness of the whole thing.
Then, about a week later, we were driving down the same stretch of road and the same behavior happened from another car, a slow merge or slow speed when it should’ve been faster. Again, my husband yelled at the other driver, so again, I wholeheartedly agreed and yelled too. But this time I recognized how inauthentic that reaction felt coming from me and it wasn’t as funny or as fun as it had been the first time, so I decided I wouldn’t do it anymore.
I am so glad I had those experiences: both the initial surprise one, so I could feel what it felt like to have an angry outburst and then the second one, so I could confirm that having an angry outburst isn’t really my style.
My Allowing Emotion Style
My style, and maybe yours now too, would be to bring whatever is bugging me or frustrating me, or making me angry to my journal and really spell out why they were wrong. Why I am right. How unjust all of it is.
But usually I don’t get too far in my descriptions, because my curiosity kicks in and my habit of asking questions and considering alternatives usually arrives pretty early in my writing.
Also, as I write what I’m angry about, it doesn’t seem so anger-producing as I get the words on to paper. This doesn’t just happen with anger.
I had another situation just yesterday when I was feeling so disappointed and so impatient. This morning, I started writing about what was creating all of this disappointment and impatience for me. Even in just the first few words of the first few sentences I could tell that my expectations were so far from reality that my disappointment and impatience wasn’t really warranted.
By writing down what I was disappointed and impatient about, I actually became less disappointed and less impatient. Even though, nothing about my situation had changed.
That’s a perfect example of how you can allow emotions through journaling. And how journaling can help with emotions.
Your Next Step
Journal today about 3 distinct emotions you have felt in the past 3 days. Allowing emotions isn’t only about the uncomfortable ones – those tough emotions that get a bad rap. You can also journal about feeling proud of yourself, or why you’re so confident about something. And, of course, you can balance that out by writing about feeling embarrassed or guilty too.
Just write about how you’re feeling. What it feels like to welcome and experience the emotions. How long you feel the emotions. You can even write about what the emotions specifically feel like to give yourself some objectivity and so that your mind is more tuned in to the emotion next time you feel it.
This week’s featured notebook has been featured before. It’s so good, I’m going to talk about it again in 3 different ways!
It is an emotions workbook or journal – and I have 3 different versions to offer you. Each one has the same worksheets inside. But you can choose the title and cover that most calls out to YOU!
The most popular one is Feel your Feels
The most recent one is In My Emotions Era
Then there’s also the Guided Notebook for Emotions: Self-care Feelings Journal