How comfortable are you with emotions? Particularly your own emotions and especially those that we consider ‘negative’? How much do you truly love your heart, your emotional self?
Most of us aren’t really that great at loving our hearts. We resist, deny, hide, and repress the emotional responses that arise in our hearts. But how can we love ourselves if we can’t love our own hearts? And how can we fully and passionately love others if we’re constantly acting as a gatekeeper with our own hearts?
No emotion is more spiritual than any other, nor is any more healthy than any other. They can all be unhealthy when we can’t regulate or identify them and they can all be healthy when we give them the attention and care they need. The goal is to integrate our unique emotional range and repertoire into a life that embraces the whole of our human experience in positive, creative, and loving ways. And that means that learning to love our hearts is a spiritual task that requires intentional spiritual practice.
In this episode, we’re exploring our hearts—our emotions and how to embrace them, express them in creative and healthy ways, and love them. And we’ll talk about how learning to regulate, label, and talk about our emotions is an important and life-giving spiritual practice.
Years ago I read a book called ‘Manopause’ by Lisa Friedman Bloch & Kathy Kirtland Silverman. And in that they have a section where they refer to the “mandates,” these expectations that are placed on men from the beginning of their lives about how they should be. And this is their list, these are the mandates:
Be a big shot. Your worth is only as great as your power, money and status.
Push down your emotions; never reveal them.
Always be aggressive, daring, and strong. Don’t let fear be part of your vocabulary.
Never do anything that is considered “feminine” or weak.
Avoid any association with homosexuality.
Disconnect sex from emotional intimacy.
Be self-reliant. Never let others know you need them.
Make duty and self-sacrifice the centre of your life.
Now, I grew up in a world where these mandates were the requirement for men. And it was hard for me—I was a sensitive boy who grew into a sensitive man. My heart was always on my sleeve. But I learned—as a matter of survival—to hide strong emotions, those emotions that felt so all-consuming. I still feel my emotions very strongly. I just don’t let other people see them very easily.
And that’s not a good thing. In the last few years I’ve had to learn to express emotions again. That’s been almost as hard as learning to hide them was, but it’s been liberating and healing and such a relief.
So, how comfortable are you with your feelings? Lots of people struggle not just to feel their emotions, but to label them accurately, or talk about them. Brené Brown, in her book ‘Atlas of the Heart’ speaks of how she surveyed, I think it was over 7000 people over a period of 5 years. And on average she found that people can only identify 3 emotions: happiness, sadness, anger. But in that book, Brené Brown maps 87 emotions.
Essentially this shows us that we’re not that great at loving our hearts. We resist, deny, hide, and repress the emotional responses that arise in our hearts. But how can we love ourselves if we can’t love our own hearts? And how can we fully and passionately love others if we’re constantly acting as a gatekeeper with our own hearts?
Now, I’m not talking about letting our emotions rule us, or expressing whatever we feel without any regard for others or for the fallout of our emotional explosions. Part of loving ourselves is learning to regulate our emotions in a healthy and life-giving way. But how can we do that if we don’t love our own hearts enough to get to know them?
That’s why I’m convinced that learning to know and love our hearts is an important spiritual practice. In a moment I’ll offer some suggestions for how we can learn to love our hearts and emotions creatively and healthily. But before I do—please don’t forget to subscribe, like, activate notifications, and share this podcast as widely as you can! Thank you so much!
So how do we do get better at loving our hearts?
Well, firstly I want to suggest that we need to get curious about your emotions. Our emotions are a complex combination of chemicals and physiological responses. And so sometimes our first awareness that we’re feeling something is through what’s happening in our bodies. It’s probably easiest to begin with the emotions we feel most strongly—when our hearts start beating really fast and strongly, when our breathing becomes fast or shallow, and when we get very tense. It can be extremely helpful to listen to those emotions and identify what triggers them. And then to get curious about how to navigate those triggers and regulate those strong emotions. So when we feel these things in our body, we know that something’s happening emotionally. We can begin to track it and trace where those physiological feelings are coming from in terms of what’s happening in us emotionally. And then we can begin to learn to label them and to be curious about what’s triggered them and how to navigate through them. And then from there we can then begin to work with the more subtle emotions, the ones that don’t create those strong physical reactions in us, but that nevertheless are influencing us. We can begin to be more aware when they’re happening and we can begin to work with them better.
And of course, we can also learn when we recruit safe and trusted loved ones to mirror our emotions back to us. Sometimes the people around can sense our feelings before we do—especially if it’s something we don’t want to admit or recognise in ourselves. And so that’s the first thing—getting curious about our emotions.
And then secondly, we need to learn to embrace our emotional range. Different people feel emotions more strongly than others and I believe that some people feel emotions in a more nuanced way than others. It may even be possible that some people have a wider emotional repertoire—a greater range or number of emotions than others. This isn’t good or bad and it doesn’t mean that some people are better emotionally or healthier or more mature than others. It just means that we are different. And it is healthy to recognise and embrace our own particular emotional range. Just a note to say: emotional maturity isn’t about how many emotions we feel or how deeply we feel them. It’s about how well we can regulate our emotions, work with them and not against them, and how well we can express them in healthy and creative ways, rather than destructive ones.
But it’s really important that we get to know—what are our most common emotions, which are the emotions that we feel less often or not quite as strongly? What is our emotional range—from our smallest emotional feelings to our largest, most all-consuming emotional feelings? For some people that’s in a fairly narrow range, for others it can be a really big, almost a kind of rollercoaster range. What is your emotional range? To identify that, to become comfortable with it, to realise this is who you are, to begin to see: what is your repertoire emotionally, what are the different emotions that make up your emotional life? And as we learn to recognise that about ourselves, then also we can learn to love our emotional selves and work with our emotional selves in more effective and creative ways.
And then thirdly, we need to grow our emotional vocabulary. As Brene’ Brown says, “If we want to find the way back to ourselves and one another, we need language…” The ability to label and talk about our emotions is a powerful and liberating skill. And it’s a skill that can be learned. Instead of using the first available word for what we’re feeling we can slow down, get curious, and try to describe our feelings in more detail—even if we don’t find the right technical term. And when we can label and talk about our emotions more accurately, we are more able to care for our hearts, and we can also work with others with less likelihood of making ourselves or others feel judged.
And so as we begin to be able to label our emotions, our feelings, more accurately, use different words to describe different shades of our feelings, or to recognise that there are different ways that certain physiological responses can be associated with emotions… As we get better about talking about it more comfortable with the language about it, so that helps us not just to love ourselves more, but to connect with others on an emotional level in a more effective way.
Our hearts are such important parts of our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. When it comes to spirituality there can be a tendency either to leave the heart out altogether for fear of emotionalism, or to make our spirituality all about our emotions, and believing that certain feelings like peace, joy, euphoria, connection with others are more spiritual than other emotions and feelings which maybe aren’t seen as ‘as spiritual.’ Now, neither extreme—making spirituality devoid of emotion or making it all about emotion—neither of those is helpful. No emotion, really, is more spiritual than any other. Nor is any more healthy than any other. All our emotions can be unhealthy when we can’t regulate or identify them or express them well. And all our emotions, even the ones we may want to label as negative, can be healthy when we give them the attention and care they need and when we learn to regulate them and express them in healthy and creative ways.
And so spirituality then is not about the emotions themselves, but about integrating our emotional life into the rest of our lives, into a whole life that embraces the whole of our human experience in positive, creative, and loving ways. And that means that learning to love our hearts is a spiritual task and it requires intentional spiritual practice. I hope this podcast has helped you on this journey, just in these few minutes, that it’s given you some stuff to work with to move toward greater emotional health and a better relationship with your own heart. And I hope that you will join me in learning daily to love our hearts better so that we can love ourselves, others, our world, and God better too.
In the next episode we’ll explore what it means to love our minds, our thoughts, our intellects, our ideas, and our imaginations. But that’s it for this episode. Thank you for listening. Thank you for watching. And I’ll catch you next time!
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