Irving Najman, LMFT, CSAT
Emotions have Feelings
When I hear the word emotions, I often think of the wonderful and insightful Disney/Pixar movie Inside Out. If you have not seen that movie, you definitely need to include it in your must-see movie list.
But this blog is not about the movie, this blog is about feeling your emotions and recognizing how essential they are for your well-being.
According to Wikipedia, Carl Jung (1875-1961) was a Swiss psychologist and psychiatrist who founded analytic psychology. In Jungian psychology, the shadow is either an unconscious aspect of the personality that the conscious ego does not identify in itself, or the entirety of the unconscious, i.e., everything of which a person is not fully conscious. In short, the shadow is the unknown side.
I believe that the concept of shadows, as described by Carl Jung, can be applied to our feelings. Every emotion that you feel has a shadow aspect to it, what I mean by that is that each of your emotions has a component that sometimes you are unaware of how it operates in your life.
Let us first talk about your feelings. If you have ever been to counseling, you might have discovered that it was difficult describing your emotions. So, your therapist gave you a chart with various smiley faces with different feelings. This is something that I have used in the past with some of my clients to help them describe their feelings and connect their feelings to their bodies.
That smiley face chart had dozens of feelings shown, so how did you choose one to describe what you were feeling. One simple way to remember and describe your feelings is something I learned early in my recovery. Every feeling in that smiley face chart is rooted in these five easy-to-remember words: Mad, Sad, Glad, Afraid and Shame.
Now, let us bridge your feelings to the concept of shadows. Consider your feelings having a dark and a golden shadow element that affects how you feel your emotions and how they interact with your surroundings.
The emotion of Anger has a dark shadow of Rage and a golden shadow of Courage. Anger, just like any other emotion, is a healthy expression of what you are feeling.
Merriam-Webster's Dictionary defines Rage as a fit of violent wrath. I would like to propose a slightly modified definition, consider rage as an uncontrollable anger accompanied by a display of a violent behavior. You might say “I feel rage” but what is happening is that your feeling of anger has become out of control and now you are acting out your anger in a threatening manner.
The golden shadow of Anger is Courage. In situations where you feel that there has been an injustice in your life, your anger might surface. Instead of acting-out your anger, one healthy way to express that feeling is to summon up the courage to pursue justice and make it right.
Sadness has a dark shadow of Depression and the golden shadows of Empathy, Compassion and Forgiveness. Again, sadness is a normal emotion that helps you acknowledge a loss and hopefully inspires you to take care of yourself.
Merriam-Webster's Dictionary defines Depression as a mood disorder marked especially by sadness, inactivity, difficulty in thinking and concentration, a significant increase or decrease in appetite and time spent sleeping, feelings of dejection and hopelessness, and sometimes suicidal tendencies. If sadness persists and is not addressed in healthy ways, then depression might overtake you and your sadness will be prolonged if you continue to neglect your self-care.
The golden shadow of Sadness is Empathy, Compassion and Forgiveness. Often sadness is a result of a loss or a hurt. Allowing yourself to feel sad around a loss could eventually give you an opportunity to practice empathy & compassion and perhaps appreciate the joyful moments you had before that loss. If you have been hurt by someone else and you have given yourself sufficient time to feel the anger and sadness around that hurt, then perhaps you could move into forgiveness. Remember, forgiveness is not about condoning your offender, it is about releasing your resentments in service to your overall well-being.
You might be wondering how can Happiness have a dark shadow? The dark shadow of Happiness is Denial and the golden shadow is Gratitude. Happiness and Joy are emotions that everyone wants to experience in their lives.
Happiness becomes unhealthy when you dismiss or deny painful situations. It is when upsetting things happen in your life and your reaction is to deny your sadness & anger and pretend that everything is okay because you are a happy person. Hope is exactly the opposite of that, hope is about enduring your pain & hurt and having faith that you will get through it all, survive, and in due course regain your happiness.
The golden shadow of Happiness is Gratitude. Experiencing happiness and joy in your life is about being grateful for all the wonderful things that you have been granted. Gratitude is about sharing your happiness with others. Gratitude is about being kind to yourself and others. Gratitude is about appreciating your fortune and being of service to others less fortunate than you.
The main function of Fear is to act as a signal of danger or a threat, and to trigger an appropriate adaptive response. The dark shadow of Fear is Living in Fear and the golden shadow is Freedom.
Living in Fear is not an emotion but a response to a judgment. One of the typical mal-adaptive responses to shame is to freeze. Sometimes you might be indecisive around how to proceed on an issue because you are afraid. The reason that you are stuck is not because you are afraid, it is because you are being guided by stories you have made up in your head. Basically - living in fear.
The golden shadow of Fear is Freedom. One of the main tasks when working the Fourth Step is making a Fear Inventory. The Fourth Step helps you overcome your fears by listing them, sharing them, facing them, and eventually gaining the freedom you deserve. In other words - face your fears and be free.
Some people include shame as one of the basic emotions. My philosophy is that shame is a result of feeling sadness, anger, fear, or a combination of any of these three emotions. When a situation occurs and you feel shame, I believe that what you are actually feeling is embarrassment. Shame surfaces when you move from being embarrassed to negatively judging yourself.
Brené Brown, a shame and vulnerability researcher, defines shame as an intense feeling or belief that somehow you are flawed and not worthy of connection. In other words, shame is a humiliating feeling accompanied by a negative self-judgment.
The dark shadow of Shame is Believing in Lies. Being in shame is about buying into the lies you have internalized about yourself. The negative self-talk messages of you're not good enough, you're unworthy, you're never going to amount to anything, and many other messages are lies that you were told, started believing in, and kept self-sabotaging to reaffirm those lies. You are not those shameful messages.
The golden shadows of Shame are Self-Acceptance and Self-Forgiveness. When you work on releasing the shameful messages you have internalized and discover your True Self, then you are on your way towards self-acceptance and self-forgiveness.
As you continue to embrace your emotions, be aware of the dark and golden shadows of your feelings. If you find yourself on the dark shadow of a feeling, take time to reflect what is happening, get support, and be gentle with yourself. Also, remember the golden shadows of our feelings are what helps us be the best version of ourselves. So, carry on with your recovery and let Your Emotions have Feelings!