On Being at Peace with My Emotions

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve known I was a “more emotional” person than my sisters or than most people I knew. I had trouble expressing them properly but I also knew that because I wasn’t repressing them and many others around me were…and that made a bit of a difference. I can look back to my temper flaring up occasionally at school throughout my life, even through graduate school. I know there were times I didn’t handle things as well as I could have. I’m ready to own that. But I’m not willing to accept the thought that having emotions is a bad thing because I also feel like I’ve been told that over and over and over.

I watched a TEDTalk from a neuroscientist that discussed what emotions are. She talked about how we actually don’t have emotional circuitry in the brain like we all think so. I don’t necessarily know what it means in terms of if it’s genetic or not — because I inherited quite a few personality traits from my parents. From my mom, I got her sensitivity — which is great at times, but also awful at other times. From my dad, I got his temper — which is never really great, but I think it’s fueled my passions and helped me discover things I love and feeling strongly about like he has. So there are good things, but I always saw it as bad, I hated being “special” in this way. But, then you wonder — could all of this simply have been learned? Maybe I was a more observant kid, being the middle child, I felt like I was on the outside looking in quite a bit.

But it’s interesting to think about it this way because it reminds me that there’s nothing wrong with me. I’ve just picked up habits and clues and hints about what the world is like around me and I express those. She mentioned that emotions are predictions — we are constantly using our past information to make sense of what’s going on around us. Our brain is constantly searching for reasons for our bad feelings so we can fix them…or maybe reasons for our good feelings so we can recreate them. It’s interesting because while I’m always thinking of emotions, I never thought about them this way. I just thought, hey, I innately have a high temper and a sensitive soul, so that explains it. Instead, I’m now curious about “transforming my emotional life” and improving my emotional intelligence.

She mentioned at one point about “turning down the dial on emotional suffering” — and my mind instantly jumped to a session I had with a therapist where we discussed turning down the volume on…life. I forget exactly what it was, but it was probably some sort of thing relating to my emotions or the voice in my head, but she made the hand motion and I so clearly remembering thinking, “BUT HOW??” I have always struggled with knowing I need to do something but not knowing how to do it, especially when it comes to improving soft skills or decreasing my emotion levels. But that made me realize that this emotional intelligence is going to take practice. I guess I need to…re-teach my brain to predict differently.

For example, if something went wrong at work — I would freak out, panic, my mind would start going a mile a minute — and I guess it was my brain trying to make sense of what was happening. I was wondering why it was happening, how could this happen to me, how can I solve this, what if this or that happens? My mind would catastrophize and jump to the worst possible conclusion. I am currently fully aware of multiple situations in the past where the worst case scenario has not happened — but in those moments of “wrong-ness”, where my order is disrupted and I lose control — I am not capable of being fully rational. But — if I could slow down and remind myself of past situations where I was able to solve what went wrong, then I might actually be able to calm down and think more rationally.

So then it leads me to wonder — if in the back of my head I’m aware that I can successfully solve the problem — then am I unsure because I do not trust myself? I wonder if it’s almost because I don’t believe that I’m good enough to solve the problem. Which is another problem in itself that I’m going to tackle, because I know I’m capable of solving problems in really creative, efficient ways. It’s just so easy to become disheartened when I’m not thinking clearly.

But then I came upon another thought — what if a situation that has never happened to me before…happens? A completely new one, not just small work problems, but something like a breakup, being fired/let go from a job, etc. How do I form emotions for that if I’ve never experienced it before? And so that is where I am right now. I’m exploring this new realm of pain that I’ve never experienced to this level before. At first, before I even realized this, I was uncomfortable with this feeling of not knowing how I felt — I would be completely fine one second, the next second, I’d burst into tears and feel like the world would never be right again. But the second I heard this TEDtalk I realized that it’s okay to be in this place because I absolutely have to explore it to heal.

And one of the biggest roadblocks in feeling overly emotional is that I wear my emotions on my face a lot. But the presenter mentioned studies where people actually cannot understand emotions in others based on faces. She mentioned that different cultures have different presentations — some might more easily express emotions, and in others it may be more common to repress certain emotions that aren’t well accepted by society. So I have started to realize that it is okay to wear my emotions on my sleeve…but I am planning to work on how that portrays itself in my actions, not just my face. But it also makes me realize that I cannot read into emotions just through others’ faces as well. So a lot of lessons were learned over the past few days.

Another large roadblock is my tears. I’ve been told over and over again that I have to be better at not crying — which I understand professionally, but I feel like I was told to stop crying because it made me look weak. I hated that. I’m not weak. If we all process and then present our emotions differently, then who is anyone else to say that I’m presenting my emotions incorrectly? Granted, I do try to work on my crying, but I’ve also come to embrace it. I’ve come to realize that it is just a reaction I tend to have towards any emotions, good, bad, or even minimal. I mean, seriously, tears show up even when I know that an emotion is insignificant. I’ve started to tell people that hey, listen, I cry when I’m having most emotions — it doesn’t mean I’m incredibly sad or anything, I just express that differently.

No, I’m not really “at peace” with my emotions — I’m a lot further along than I used to be and I’m much more comfortable with who I am now. It’s so empowering to know that maybe I am more in control of my emotions than I thought. I have ways that I can work on them and improve my “emotional intelligence”. And I’ve got a lot to go but these past few years have been absolutely and incredibly necessary in my personal growth. I may never be fully “at peace” with my emotions, but it’s good to be in the place I am right now.

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Jen Xu

Jen Xu

Athletic trainer, coffee lover, looking for a hobby I don’t have time for. I write about fitness, mental health, being Asian-American, and personal growth.