On the surface, it seems like the kind of stuff you’d teach your two-year old.
Are there teardrops pooling in your eyes? That’s called sadness. Did you just try to punch a hole through the nearest wall? You might be angry. Do you have the uncontrollable urge to smile or laugh? You’re happy!
And yet at some point between childhood and adulthood, many of us lose that ability to rely on physiological, psychological, and behavioral cues to accurately identify the emotions we’re feeling.
It’s a problem, because if we’re incapable of acknowledging that we’re feeling hurt or upset in the first place, we’ve no hope of ever moving past those emotions and feeling better.
So says Brené Brown, a bestselling author and research professor who specializes in the study of vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Her TED Talk on vulnerability has been viewed over 21 million times. In her latest book, “Rising Strong,” she uses research and personal anecdotes to argue that true bravery means coming to terms with your emotional experience – even if it’s uncomfortable.
Early on in the book, Brown writes that the only way to rise strong from adversity is to “reckon” with emotion. She outlines two steps to the reckoning process: engaging with your feelings and getting curious about the story behind your feelings.
Engaging with your feelings simply means being aware that you are in the present moment feeling something. Maybe you want to hide from the situation; your stomach is tied up in knots; or you just fired off a snippy email to a coworker. You’re having an emotional reaction.
Getting curious is potentially more complicated. You can ask yourself: Why am I being so hard on everyone today? Or, what’s setting me off?
Brown acknowledges that the reckoning process is hardly easy. What if you discover that you’re more hurt than you thought? Or what if you find out that you – and not the coworker to whom you sent the snippy email – are really to blame?
That’s why, for most of us, the default is to label your coworker or the company imbecilic and pretend to shrug off the whole situation. In this way, Brene writes, we disengage and deny our emotional selves.
But “when we deny our stories and disengage from tough emotions, they don’t go away; instead, they own us, they define us.”
In other words, the more we try to suppress our emotions, the more control they have over our thoughts and behavior.
Curiosity, on the other hand, “is an act of vulnerability and courage,” Brene writes. The only way to grow from the experience and have any hope of resolving the situation is by exploring our current emotional state.
“For experiences and information to be integrated into our lives as true awareness,” she writes, “they have to be received with open hands, inquisitive minds, and wondering hearts.”