Emotions are information which, in its primal form, are designed to elicit change, from self-preservation to growth, while in its secondary form they can hold us stuck.
Either way, once arising, the energy of an emotion seeks expression before it can subside, which is easier said than done for a number of reasons ranging from age, to psychological development, to skill level to cultural conditioning. Healthy expression of an emotion is necessary for the well-being of the individual experiencing it, and healthy means that the emotion is expressed in a constructive way that may or may not engage other individuals, and without projection.
Healthy emotional management consists of a few steps:
1. Identification – How do I feel? Where is this emotion arising in my body? Listening and exploring one’s emotion is against everything society prescribes (“Don’t think about it”; “Look at the bright side” or “Swallow this pill.”) but since emotions are information, your best interest is served when the message is received, understood (decoded) and acted upon. You are a sentient being which means that you are wired to feel, unlike computers who receive and process information without feeling or emotion.
2. Ownership – Even when an emotion arises as an empathetic resonance with another individual’s emotion, it may be healthier to own the resonance and process it consciously, than dismiss it as foreign (“this is not my anger”) which may lead to unconscious suppression or repression of the emotion.
3. Identifying the need – Marshall B. Rosenberg , author of “Nonviolent Communication”, regards every emotion as a finger that points towards a need that hasn’t been yet met. Fear points towards an unmet need for safety, anger could point towards an unmet need for autonomy and so forth.
4. Expression – With the exception of narration, humans share expression with animals: body movement, breath and sound; narration being the higher form of expression.
5. Appropriate action or clear request for specific action towards meeting the identified need. When the emotion is arising within a relationship because, let’s say, someone has sloppy boundaries and behaved in a way harmful to you, it is important that you hold the other responsible for his or her behaviour, and request for amends.
Healthy expression is conscious, constructive and purposeful; unconscious projection is dark, destructive and leads you nowhere out of the shadows. It takes some skill and practice to learn how you can tell when you are projecting, since, after all, you don’t know what you don’t know, but it can be done with some exploratory dialogue, seeking to understand the other and see from their perspective - because any gap between how you think the other feels and thinks, and what they tell you that they feel and think points towards projection.
When emotions are deep and intense, they are often a re-visitation of the past, and dialogue is not always possible with the other players in your story. The need to express the intensity of emotion has urgency to it, and one of the safest venues for open, uncensored, fulfilling and safe expression besides a therapist’s office, is art.
Art is the world of uninhibited expressions ranging from quiet sadness to red bubbling rage, since the painting canvas, sketchbook, journal, dance floor or drums are very forgiving – it is your parallel universe in which you can be everything from pauper to king, from saint to whore, from kind, gentle angel to enraged, vengeful demon – safely, guiltlessly, without harming yourself or others. Art is a venue to come alive where society or circumstances deny it – it is the freedom of existence not only of your creative imagination but also the green light for all your expressive humanity.