By Varkha Chulani
In the recent past I have seen too many clients getting into trouble due to self-control! Yes, sounds a bit odd, because mankind’s main problem seems quite contrarian. Decadence and intemperance being the bane for many, with self-indulgence and instant gratification playing a significant role in the decay of health. Not to mention the avoidance in tolerating and bearing legitimate suffering that life offers. So, in a way self-control IS the need of the hour, isn’t it? Well, not in the area of beneficial emotionality!
Mansi came and saw me with complaints of anxiety and panic. A young twenty-seven-year old she was experiencing difficulty breathing, with palpitations that sounded like her heart was going to burst, a restlessness she wasn’t able to control, and a feeling of doom whenever she was with herself alone.
As the session progressed it came to light that Mansi had recently been led down the garden path in a relationship. As is the case most often, she brushed aside the anguish this had caused, went about her daily life as if nothing had happened. She was trying to remain upbeat and cheerful, suppressing emotions and not allowing herself to feel “bad”, as she put it. This was Mansi’s way of moving on… She wanted to get on with it, to recover, and not “wallow” as most people would say!
Just be positive! Look at the silver lining! Everything will be well! Life is beautiful! Keep your chin up! In this trying to stay in a sunshine-and-roses-stay-
“You are too ‘negative’”, “Tsk, tsk, do you always see the glass half-empty?” are some messages that one often hears when one displays or talks about unhappiness.
We are afraid of negativity. To us, expressions of sadness, regret, annoyance, concern, disappointment and dissatisfaction are just too adverse. But heck, stop a moment and think! Do you really believe that Mansi ought not to have stayed with her feelings, acknowledging the hurt, the loss, and the pain she went through having suffered a break up?
The case for emotionality argues that thankfully human beings are not objects. We can emote. And due to our higher order (?!) cognitive functioning, a step beyond the animal kingdom. The range of emotional capacities that humans can enjoy exists! The operative word being can!
But in a culture which defines emotionality as a weakness, sensitivity as vulnerability and sentimentality as susceptibility, we are trying very hard to curb if not squelch emotions altogether. Or at least the so-called ‘negative’ ones. And with so many self-styled counselors, coaches and ‘experts’ who have never learnt the distinction between what construes as healthy and unhealthy emotions, categorising everything simply as ‘positive’ or ‘negative’, is leading to a population that is leaning towards the unhumane. Because to be human is to emote. Humaneness is tenderness. And tenderness is not frailty!
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But to believe the above one has to shorn off yet another message many lay-people and even the ‘experts’ believe. That if one feels ‘negatively’ then one is not “strong’. Does ‘strength’ mean being ‘emotionless’?
So lets not do us a disservice anymore and be fearful of emotionality. Mansi would be better off being true to herself and authentically allowing herself to feel sad, disappointed, grief, at the loss of love. Allowing her to experience and feel sorrow ironically would veto anxiety and panic! Yes, you read right. Had she given herself the go-ahead to experience the expected reactions to loss, and had not exhibited restraint, the suppression wouldn’t have burgeoned into a debilitating anxiety.
I believe life is a tragedy to those who hold back, a pleasantry to those who feel!
About the Author:
Varkha Chulani is a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist at Lilavati Hospital in Mumbai. She is an associate fellow and supervisor at The Albert Ellis Institute, New York City. She writes a regular column for The Health Collective — you can find her piece on the need to build pockets of stillness into our lives here.
Views expressed are Personal. Material on The Health Collective cannot substitute for professional mental health advice from a trained professional.