Just how did my view of emotion change from ‘must suppress’ to ‘come right in’? And what we can do about it in those times when we really can’t succumb to all the feels?
An absolute mess
So this week I put a post out on LinkedIn about how I cried the very first morning I dropped my daughter off at nursery. I was a complete mess and cried on two unsuspecting, complete strangers who dared to ask me how my day was going. And then I said that I’d just had an email from the nursery about preparing for her leaving next year to go to school and well, of course, there came the tears again! My question was – does it ever get any easier?! Ever?! And well, the messages in response were tear worthy again. They really were. Mainly from parents whose children are heading off to university which is just next level emotion isn’t it?! I can’t even go there.
Anyway, it got me wondering. How many of these parents had to go into work and hold their shit together? How many of these parents had employers who were open to them going in and saying, my baby’s just left home, I’m not OK? Because there’s a tolerance (in some part) to parents of young children needing flexibility etc. but I’m not sure I’ve ever really thought of how big a deal it is when your baby flies the nest and all the emotions that go with that. Have you?
So it makes sense doesn’t it that people need open workplaces where they can express themselves and not have to bottle that kind of thing up – and that’s what gets me up in the morning. But sometimes with all the will in the world there are things that need doing and we can’t always succumb to the emotions that are bubbling underneath.
Emotion? We don’t want that around here
I think in the past my relationship with emotion hasn’t been too healthy to be honest. I was always told “take the emotion out of it”, which in some respects is really good advice, but how that translated for me was “don’t be an emotional woman.” Don’t cry because that’ll show your femininity and “weakness” and the worst thing you ever want to acknowledge at work is your femininity! Argh! In reality, taking the emotion out of it turned into suppressing my emotion, and you might relate to it but that would end up in a lot of frustration, getting wound up over the smallest thing and probably getting more emotional about something that wasn’t really the issue further down the line.
The female type of human
I’ve got much more comfortable with emotion over the last few years though and here’s why. Because I’m human. And a female one at that. My husband and I tried for 4.5 years before we finally were blessed with our daughter on our 3rd and final IVF round. I recognise now that on that last round of IVF it was the first time that I really acknowledged that I was a woman, I have a woman’s body, and with that comes hormones and with that comes experiences and emotions that aren’t linear.
Now, emotions aren’t an exclusively female thing of course, but I believe that for all of us emotions are simply feedback that something is going on for us. Which is a perfectly human and normal response, and one we should get comfortable dealing with in a helpful way i.e. not getting lost in a tik tok tunnel or stuffing our face with chocolate (favourites of mine).
It’s not always tea and sympathy
But, dealing with the emotions on the spot, as I’ve said, isn’t always that easy. What do we do when we have to finish the meeting with the individual who’s just told us they’re going to lose their home because of their redundancy? Or when you have to coherently help the individual who’s just told you they’ve got terminal cancer? Dissolving into your own emotional response here isn’t going to be helpful, so here’s what you can do.
First off is always to acknowledge it. It is asking to be heard, so listen. You’ll need to be comfortable with giving a name to your feeling and acknowledging what is going on that led to it. How often do we say sorry when we start crying? What are we sorry for exactly? There’s nothing wrong in having the emotion so own it. “I’m sad because I’m having to have yet another conversation about someone losing their job and I’m worried for the person on the receiving end.”
Make a promise
Next, and this is so often what we forget to do (remember we apologise for any ‘extreme’ of emotion?), we need to commit to a time when we come back to it. When are we going to be in a position to let this emotion move through us in the way it’s meant to? Make a note of the time and you can even put it in your diary. Let your emotion know that you’re not ignoring it, you will come back to it when you’re ready.
Tuck it away
What you need to do next is imagine shutting the door on this emotion temporarily. You might want to imagine putting the emotion in a box and putting it on a shelf, or putting it in the airing cupboard and closing the door behind it. Do what works for you, just make sure that you can clearly visualise the emotion being tucked away temporarily. Take a moment to calm your system by taking some deep breaths, or do some stretching. Maybe just allow yourself to be in silence for a moment. Again, whatever works for you.
Lastly, do something to replenish yourself like have a cuppa or walk outside for a minute or so before you get back to what it is you need to do.
You might be used to locking your emotion away but how often do you commit to revisiting it and allowing it to pass through? I know I’ve often just pushed things to the back of my mind because “it’s been a tough day I don’t want to go there again” or “oh it’s not so bad, I was overreacting”. In the long term we can get clogged up with all these unexpressed emotions which can impact our wellbeing and in some cases can lead to anxiety and / or depression.
So – give it a go, see how you get on and let me know what you think!