The "attention brake light" showed up on my dashboard. It was a foolish-teenager type mistake, but I ignored it and kept driving. In fact, I piloted my 6000 STE Pontiac around for weeks, until my brakes eventually went out. I was completely surprised, not to mention horrified, when I couldn't stop.
My car should have been totaled or worse! Luckily, I walked away safe, and learned to: always pay attention to the alerts on my dash.
Our emotions are like alerts on the dashboard. We may need a quick oil change, but unless we pop the hood when the red light is flashing, we could put ourselves (or others) at risk. We may not experience the effects of ignoring our emotions immediately, but we can suffer real consequences in our bodies, minds, souls, and relationships--weeks, months, or even years later.
Emotions don't just go away, they keep blinking
We override our feelings too fast with trite phrases like, "Just don't worry about it," "God's in control!" or "Everything happens for a reason." Maybe we're genuinely trying to trust God or help someone else when we say these things, but these mantras can become spiritual bypasses we use to ignore our painful past or present reality.
All humans get afraid; we feel insecure, hurt, angry, and anxious. Maybe we feel them all at once or maybe we're worn down from pain. I'm not suggesting we explode everywhere, or talk about every little paper cut, but stuffing our emotions won't work either.
Here's what I mean. There is an expression we often hear after seeing an incredible sunset, good film, or concert: "I was so moved by that!"
Is there something happening in your inner world that makes you want to shout, cuss, punch a wall, or run for local office? Whether your experiences are good, sad, or ugly... they are moving you somewhere.
For example, when you feel lonely do you move more toward isolation and self-pity or authentic connection with others? With hurt, do you move more toward numbing your pain or acknowledging it out loud with trusted friends? If we deny our emotional world a place to exist, that denial can drive us toward addiction, depression, or despair.
Here are a few thoughts on how you can start tuning in to your emotions
1. Slow down. Leave your "to do list" alone and connect to your heart. Unplug from media and take a long walk. Turn your phone off and go for a long drive with the radio off. Or find a beautiful place in nature where your soul can breathe.
2. Get acquainted with your different emotions; there's more to feel than happy or unhappy. That's a huge start! A lot of times, if we name it (what we're feeling) we can more easily tame it. You could google "emotional wheel images" and expand your emotional vocabulary. Also, Chip Dodd has some incredible thoughts on his website that communicate the benefits (or gifts) of our eight core emotions.
3. For me, it helps to explore my feelings through journaling. Sometimes I feel emotionally constipated (can I type that? Just did...) and I don't know what the heck I'm feeling. You could write out a list of emotions and confront yourself on a blank page. Okay, self? Am I lonely, mad, sad, glad, shameful, guilty, hurt, or fearful? It can be scary to share honestly (with God and others) about your feelings, but our vulnerability can lead to genuine hope, healing, and build relationships that last.
4. Think about doing a few sessions with a trusted counselor. If you've not done counseling, put it on your bucket list. There are some incredible therapists who are trained to explore these kinds of things. (And to be real, seeing a counselor myself, has helped me become more emotionally intelligent and relationally whole).
5. And, if you've not seen the movie Inside Out, watch it with your family and talk about it.
What's blinking on the dashboard of your soul?