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What does it mean to sit with your emotions?

Have you heard the term “sit with your emotions”? It’s something that comes up in the therapy space often. It's the ability to experience your emotions, often times a difficult one like anger or sadness (or both!).

This can be very hard for people to do, and sometimes may even feel impossible depending on disposition and life experiences. Let me explain...

Some people are deemed “highly emotional” by their family and friends because their emotional reactions are bigger and more overt, while others are "highly rational" problem solvers and believe they aren’t negatively impacted by emotions and don’t see the point on feeling their feelings. Let me give you an example of each.

Example 1: The highly emotional person feels big feelings and may be more reactive by crying, yelling or becoming more agitated easily.

This person may do things like:

  • self-shame, believe something is very wrong with them for feeling sad “for no reason” or crying often over small things, having such a short temper, and may wonder why “everyone else is doing it better”. They may also have friends and family telling them something is wrong with them because they don't understand the depth of emotions the highly emotional person is experiencing.

Example 2: The highly rational person doesn’t understand the purpose or reasons for feeling sad, angry, anxious, etc. This person stays in their head and focuses on problem solving every situation.

This person does things like:

  • Consistently staying busy or overworking to avoid feeling things, possibly even unknowingly shoving emotions away when they come to the surface or solely processes struggles cognitively (ex. Someone asks, “How are you feeling about that?”, and the rational person responds with, “I feel like it’s not a big deal and I’ll just get over it.” What happened here was the person identifying a thought NOT a feeling. This is what it means to process more cognitively, rather than emotionally.)

I’m going to let you in on a little secret, both of the above individuals, highly emotional and highly rational aren't bad, they are just missing something very critical - the ability to sit with an emotion which consists of noticing, acknowledging and experiencing an emotion without becoming overwhelmed or shutting it down. Shutting down or becoming overwhelmed by emotions are often a result of some level of emotional neglect from the parent or caregiver OR parents who were just not knowledgeable on supporting their child’s emotional reactions in a healthy way.

One of the many benefits of therapy is the ability to learn how to understand what exactly you’re feeling and how to sit with emotions.

What are the benefits of experiencing emotions (aka sitting with emotions):

  • You can become less reactive. Ever heard someone say, “I don’t know what happened, I just saw red and started yelling!”? That’s an example of reacting without the awareness of the emotional build up to a negative reaction. Being able to know what you're feeling as it's happening helps with how you respond and react.

  • Your relationships with yourself and others dramatically improve. If you know what you’re feeling, you can learn how to express it. You’re more likely to treat yourself better when upset and more likely to be able to express your feelings to others so they can understand you. Being understood and understanding others emotionally is one of the best ways to feel calm, regulated and connected and supports healthy relationships.

  • You experience more confidence and less self-doubt. When you know what’s going on emotionally in your mind and body, and you have the tools to stay with those emotions without them overwhelming you. This will lead to you feeling more confident and the more confident you are, the less you will doubt yourself and feel something is wrong with you.

  • Physically you will feel better. Emotions are not just some pointless thing we experience. They are not just words that come and go. They take up a real, physical place in our bodies. It’s the tightness in your throat when you want to cry. It’s the pit in your stomach when you feel anxious. It’s the tension in your head and neck when you’re stressed. If you do nothing to assuage these emotional experiences by properly tending to them (aka learning to sit with them), they can get stuck, can become more intense, or worse, they can lead to chronic health conditions.

Take some time to reflect on how you experience emotions. What was it like growing up for you and how did your parents or caregivers navigate your emotions? What about their own? What emotions are easier for you to experience and which ones are harder? Hopefully you found this blog post encouraging and perhaps want to improve the way you experience emotions (because we can all work to improve in this area :))

If you found this blog post helpful, or know someone who would benefit, please share!


*This blog is intended for educational purposes only and is not a replacement for therapy. If you struggle with emotional overwhelm or worry that how to deal with emotions is affecting your life and relationships, please seek out support from a licensed professional. We are here to help you!

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