What It Means To Own Your Emotions

Written by on October 4, 2016 in Emotional Mastery

what-it-means-to-own-your-emotionsYou can’t see or touch them. But you can definitely feel them … unless of course, they happen to be deeply buried under layers and layers of protection.

I’m talking about emotions, specifically those that we deny or deem too difficult or painful to face.

Some use food to provide comfort as they stuff their emotions away with every bite; while others erect emotional barriers that proclaim to the people around them, “don’t even think about getting too close”. And some of us end up doing both.

The towering walls you have built to protect your heart also shield you from joy and in the end accomplish nothing more than to imprison your spirit.

Emotions Are a Natural Response to Living

Our emotions are our most present, vital and sometimes painful response to living. Our ability to love and be loved, to feel joy and experience a full life is based on our ability to feel and express our emotions.

When you allow yourself to experience them, your feelings will naturally come and go with an easy flow. It is the resistance to experiencing and owning your emotions when they arise that causes the pain.

Regulating our emotions is something we learn at a young age as our guardians teach us acceptable behavior. Unfortunately, for many “acceptable” behavior amounts to “be nice, and don’t make a scene”, so they fail to learn how to understand and express their emotions in a healthy way.

It doesn’t take long to become conditioned to bury your most uncomfortable or embarrassing feelings under a “happy face” when you fear that revealing them means others will reject or judge you as being weak.

The problem is that suppressed emotions never really go away. They continue to fester inside you and will eventually make themselves felt again in unhealthy ways.

Symptoms such as insomnia, headaches, stomach problems, and fatigue are common responses to buried emotions. More importantly, the stress we experience over time from suppressing emotions can weaken our immune system and make us prone to all sorts of chronic illnesses.

Unexpressed emotions NEVER die. They are buried alive and left unattended will reappear in uglier ways at the most inconvenient times.

The Nature of Emotional Triggers

Very often what triggers a buried emotion will have nothing to do with the original event. To see how this works let’s use the example that after a particularly tough day at work you arrive home to find that your spouse has invited his / her boss for dinner. Surprise!

You make it through the evening but instead of talking it out and expressing your hurt feelings or how inconsiderate you felt it was not to call you, you decide to just let it go because you’re too tired to deal with it. So you fall into bed exhausted, stuffing away those disgruntled emotions for the sake of keeping the peace.

But it’s been a week now and thanks to a growing sense of irritation with the world in general, you are feeling anything but peaceful, so when at the end of the day a coworker drops off a last-minute assignment he ends up the unlucky recipient of your 3-alarm emotional eruption.

The last minute assignment may well have been annoying, but it merely served as a tipping point for the real issue … your feelings about not being valued in general, and the event last week in particular.

So you see how this works?

And I can tell you from personal experience that sometimes it takes years for buried emotions, particularly anger, to resurface.

My History With Suppressing Emotions

Through adolescence and my teen years, I was a master at emotional suppression. The day after I graduated from high school I moved away from home and honestly believed that physically distancing myself was all I needed to let go of the past and create a new beginning.

Fast forward to my early 20’s and I was happily working with my fiance to plan our wedding. Nothing out of the usual stress and family bickering over who would be invited or sit where happened, but just weeks before the big day I began to experience relentless stomach pain and then an ugly rash appeared on my neck. Not a good look for a bride.

A full check-up later the doctor pronounced me physically healthy, but emotionally a wreck. Turned out the stress of the wedding, in particular dealing with family, was just the trigger all those early stuffed emotions needed to erupt.

Short-term I was able to get some help to deal with the symptoms, but what really helped me clear the sludge was journaling and learning how to understand, accept and own my emotions.

It Begins With Self-Awareness

Not surprisingly, owning your emotions begins with self-awareness. The key is to begin paying attention to your triggers, the circumstances (and people) that cause you to react strongly.

But awareness is only the beginning. The real key is instead of denying or letting go of an unpleasant emotion you stay with it and take the time to understand what’s really going on. This allows you to complete the neurologic cycle and lets the energy naturally dissipate, rather than reacting to it by suppressing the emotion or doing something you’ll regret.

Learning to accept and own your emotions allows you to be vulnerable in a way that doesn’t induce shame, guilt, or doubt, and fosters self-compassion.

What’s your story? Can you think of a time when you reacted to something only to later realize that it was a symptom of a completely different problem?

Related articles:


Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.
About Marquita Herald

Marquita Herald

Marquita is an author, resilience coach and the chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies and (especially) a dog named Lucy.

She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.

To learn more about Marquita and the mission of Emotionally Resilient Living  click here.

Thank you for sharing!

Tags: , , ,


If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Subscribe via RSS Feed Connect on Pinterest Connect on Google Plus Connect on LinkedIn Connect on YouTube

38 Reader Comments

Trackback URL Comments RSS Feed

  1. ikechi

    Hi Marquita

    In my community, you were mocked for not being able to suppress your emotions. It was called “Being a man”.

    Just like you, I mastered the art of suppressing my emotions but when they did erupt, it was always a disaster. It looks easy to suppress an emotion but the tame it is another story.

    Fast forward today, I don’t feel bad about my emotions. I learn from them and move on. Thanks for sharing. Take Care

    • Such powerful lessons Ikechi, and how lucky we all are that you are now writing about what you’re insights and experiences over on your own blog. I learn something new every time I visit, so please keep up the good work!

  2. Edward Thorpe

    You’re one brave lady to bare yourself like you have in this post. I admire that!

    In the south, from our earliest days, us boys were encouraged (demanded) to ‘be a man’ and keep ‘it’ to themselves.

    When you couple that kinda attitude with ptsd, you’ve gotta mess like I was for most many years. Awareness, and meds, pretty much saved my life.

    This post could’ve helped me more back then. Thank you for helping people who are in need now.
    Edward Thorpe recently posted…10 Benefits From Spending Time By YourselfMy Profile

    • I’m familiar with the challenges of PTSD Edward. Someone very close to me suffered from it after returning from Viet Nam and I volunteer with a group that helps former military men and women suffering from PTSD obtain service dogs. In fact, several of my subscribers are members of that group, so I do hope they will share the message as well. Thanks so much for stopping by and contributing to the conversation!

  3. Erica says:

    I think most of us struggle with the difficult emotions at some point in our lives. When I was a teenager, I too thought that by getting away, everything would become OK. But of course that’s not how it works.Of course I ran from my home to acting school where the make you explore every emotion you ever had. So I didn’t get very far before I realized that the emotions were still there. Acting school was actually a miserable experience in many ways because I had to keep facing all this crap. I think this is why actors can seem so crazy or flighty. They have to have constant access to their emotions, but are often very badly equipped with tools to deal with those emotions. It wasn’t until I got a little older that I started to learn how to process and heal.
    Erica recently posted…Failure & How To Do It SuccessfullyMy Profile

    • I have to admit I find it interesting to learning about why actors have chosen their profession Erica, maybe because as an Introvert it is so far from anything I would ever do. No doubt the point you raised is a valid one for many, I’ve also seen interviews where actors talk about how it’s all about getting out of their own heads and being someone else. Now that I can relate to because when I was in sales I worked to keep the focus off myself and on what I was selling. Fascinating topic! Thanks for sharing your story with us! 🙂

  4. Donna Janke

    Paying attention to our triggers and staying with an unpleasant emotion long enough to understand it and the whys isn’t easy, but it is important. I think I’ve often avoided it by keeping busy with stuff. I’m getting better at owning the emotion. Journaling helps for me.
    Donna Janke recently posted…Walk and Drive Through Towering RedwoodsMy Profile

    • You are right Donna, the important stuff is almost never easy. Glad to hear you are a fellow journaler, it has made a huge positive difference in my own life. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Marquita,
    It is so true that suppressed emotions resurface in incorrect ways.We can unknowingly cause so much harm to ourselves as well as the people around us. Obesity, broken relationships , depression and other personality disorders must be having their roots in unexpressed negative impressions created in mind that were buried within over the years.School shoot outs could have been a result of bullying, criticism, loneliness experienced by a child resulting in suppressed anger showing up in a very detrimental way.Makes me wonder if there is a way to train the mind to erase these impressions positively ? Can we possibly give a positive perspective to mind each time negative impressions of the past creep in and affect our peace ?

    • Thought provoking questions Priya, and for answers, I’d say to look to the stories of people who have overcome traumatic experiences, some beyond imagining, and gone on to live happy, rewarding lives. This is what resilience is all about and why I’m so passionate about it.

  6. Ken Dowell

    I do this and my wife does this and it is something that happens in our house all the time. And we have a generally happy and healthy marriage. Easy to see in others where the relationship is much more tenuous. As I’m reading this, I’m thinking this has to be something that’s front and center for marriage counselors.
    Ken Dowell recently posted…Seward Johnson: Sculptor, Painter, Public ArtistMy Profile

    • I’m pretty sure we all do it to some degree Ken, it’s just a matter of not letting things go too far one way or the other. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and contributing to the conversation. Always appreciated. 🙂

  7. William Rusho

    Self-aware is so important. It is a waste of time and effort, to show affection, or distain toward someone or something, then realize you were acting out to something else. As for me, I control the emotions, so I can look at what is causing them. Never hurts to look at things with a fresh mind.
    William Rusho recently posted…Connecticut Renaissance Faire and the Warrensburg World’s Largest Garage SaleMy Profile

  8. lenie

    Hi Marquita – I love the idea of keeping a journal. I just finished reading a book about that and how it helps the healing process. Reading through the comments, it’s easy to see that although our ‘baggage’ may differ, we all have issues in our lives that should be dealt with. I guess it does come down to what we were taught – ‘keep your chin up and move on’. Not the best advice ever.
    lenie recently posted…Apple Cider Vinegar: Is It Really a Magic Cure-All?My Profile

    • I hear you Lenie. I think, like most advice, there’s a time and a place for the “chin up” approach, but life is all about finding balance and it could be one of the most important lessons we can learn is that whatever that balance is will be different for each of us. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing. 🙂

  9. Hi Marty. Having been previously married to an introvert who suppressed nearly all his emotions, I found this post quite enlightening. I am at the opposite end of the spectrum, being an extrovert who too often, shares too much of what I am thinking and feeling. If only we could control our emotions like we do the volume on the radio!
    Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…in search of the world’s best chocolateMy Profile

  10. Jeri

    In the current relationship I’m in, it’s been eye-opening to realize how my reactions to one situation are often a reaction to an entirely different situation. I wasn’t able to do that when in the midst of my former marriage. Realizing that has helped me get a lot better about owning my emotions and understanding them.
    Jeri recently posted…#EditTip: Picking a Point of ViewMy Profile

    • Good for you Jeri! Divorce is hard no matter what the circumstances may be, but if you can learn and grow from the experience it makes it much easier to move on and put the past behind you. Thanks so much for sharing!

  11. Sushmita

    Emotions sometimes do unintentionally make us react to a situation differently than we would ideally and realise it later. I say that the reason behind it might be expressed by a quote ‘We might be masters of our own thoughts still, we are slaves of our emotions.’
    Thank you for sharing! We all agree at some point it is bound to happen, but instead or reacting on something else one must talk or share about it!
    Sushmita recently posted…Connecting with Customers!My Profile

    • Good points Sushmita, although I’m not sure I would use the phrase ‘unintentionally make us’ in reference to emotions because that implies there would also be times when our emotions take on a life of their own through purposeful action with the intent of manipulating. Of course, there is no question that when we allow our emotions to rule us it can certainly feel that way! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and contributing to the conversation. 🙂

  12. Paula OKeefe

    LOvely article filled with so much truth. You know I decided to speak my mind more and share how I feel, but my husband is a junky to happy and doesnt deal well with it. He was happier when I repressed and did not confront him. LOL. Oh well!

    • Well, I don’t know your husband Paula, but my advice to you is to take up journaling. It’s a powerful way of exploring and expressing your emotions, not to mention working through problems. Give it a try, you might like it. 🙂

  13. Donna Merrill

    Wow Marquita,

    We have walked similar paths my friend. I left home right after graduation also thinking that things would work out if I distanced myself….wrong!

    Those untapped emotions festered within me. I developed an ulcer. I had more crazy health issues than ever until I went to seek help because something was wrong.

    After therapy, hypnosis and all that jazz, I can say that now I know darn well what my “triggers” are and can handle them for those emotions that still fester. But I won’t give up…I still work on them.

    Donna Merrill recently posted…3 Crazy Simple Ways To Become A Successful Blogger | Interview With Marquita HeraldMy Profile

    • Yeah, that distancing ourselves strategy almost never works as we have both found out. There is a quotation from (of all things!) Buckaroo Banzai that goes, ‘No matter where you go – there you are’. So true! The good news about the lessons you’ve learned Donna is that it makes you that much stronger and better able to help those in your community. Thanks for sharing your story and contributing to the conversation. 🙂

  14. Lea Bullen

    Hey Marquita,
    I think I went through the same thing as a kid. I held a lot of my emotions in, that’s just how my environment was. Because of that when I was a young adult I used to breakdown and cry at the weirdest times. It was completely irrational and seemed to unrelated to what was going on. I’d later wonder why I’m crying about that, it couldn’t be that. I guess when I felt a little pressure anywhere I cracked completely.
    Lea Bullen recently posted…How You Hit the Glass Ceiling in Life and How to Break ItMy Profile

    • You don’t say, but hopefully you found your way through that phase Lea. There are so many reasons our emotions can throw us for a loop, which is why it’s so important to learn to understand our triggers and how to express our emotions in a healthy way. Thanks for sharing!

  15. Mark

    As always so eloquently explained M!

    And as I read your descriptive words, describing your emotional roller coaster, during the preparation of your wedding. And (both) your physical and emotional reactions to the accompanying suppressed stress.

    I merely substituted your wedding, to various emotionally charged events throughout my entire life and bingo!

    It is so easy to relate to and totally appreciate, your incredibly insightful words of wisdom and insights.

    And I totally love this particular passage, “The towering walls you have built to protect your heart also shield you from joy and in the end accomplish nothing more than to imprison your spirit.”

    That awesome M! As always, you have once again, over delivered!Thanks!
    Mark recently posted…Email Marketing: Seven Potentially Profitable Reasons Aweber Might Be Right For You!My Profile

    • I’m glad you found value in the post Mark. From the messages that I’ve received from reader, both here and by email, this topic hit home for many people. Thanks for contributing to the conversation my friend!

  16. Phoenicia

    Emotions cause people to do all sorts of things; some good and some downright awful.
    Learning to keep your emotions in check enables you to live more of a balanced life.

    As a child and teen, I bottled up my feelings, partly due to being ashamed, believing nothing could be done and that deep down nobody cared. I faced five years of bullying at high school and said nothing. I remember crying a lot and feeling depressed and suicidal for most of my teen years. I had no one to talk. I was not a Christian then so had no real belief in God.

    Things have changed quite a bit since them. Looking back I had real emotional issues that should have been dealt with. Somehow I managed to stay balanced and study, work, socialise. On the inside I was a mess waiting to be fixed. Always looking to others to make me feel worthy. Always giving more and expecting from others what they could not give.

    Nowadays when feelings come; good and ugly, I accept and acknowledge them then try to work out why they creeped in.

    Thank you for such a wonderful post.
    Phoenicia recently posted…How motivated are you?My Profile

  17. Sabrina Quairoli

    What a great post! Thank you. I love this sentence, “Learning to accept and own your emotions allows you to be vulnerable in a way that doesn’t induce shame, guilt, or doubt, and fosters self-compassion.” I think it is hard for people to feel vulnerable these days. We all have to be strong and be able to handle everything. I am trying to show my kids that showing your emotions in a safe nurturing environment helps them stay healthy. Not sure if they get it, but hopefully, one day they will.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…Quick Creamy Potato Soup recipeMy Profile

    • You have made an excellent point Sabrina about how hard it is to be vulnerable these days. I appreciate that every time in history has its challenges, but I think that for all the good that’s come from social media, it’s also become a platform for some pretty awful demons in the form of hate, shaming, and racism. The problem is so many people are looking for a connection and the warm and fuzzy stuff floating through the various feeds lulls them into a false sense of security about revealing their vulnerabilities, but that safety net is an illusion and that’s a hard lesson to learn. As far as owning their emotions, I have no doubt your children will ‘get it’ one day Sabrina since you are doing such a great job of modeling the behavior.

  18. Dave

    It’s funny when you’re sitting in a restaurant, a shopping center, or a clothing store, and you inevitably see a toddler throwing a temper tantrum. Everyone looks with disdain at the youngster and with aggravation at the parent who can’t seemingly control their child.

    I can’t tell you how many times I have thought to myself (and sometimes voiced the thought – tongue in cheek – to others) that I have felt the exact same way! We’ve just been conditioned to respond in a more “reasonable” manner.

    But, as you say, responding in an appropriate way doesn’t mean burying emotions only to have them fester and rear their head in much uglier ways. This has certainly happened to me before where I surprise myself (not to mention the one who I have lashed out at) at the relatively inconsequential event that sends me off into an irrational tirade.

    I really appreciate your approach of self-awareness. It’s not always easy, but just keeping a pulse on when your pulse changes allows you to recognize that you are feeling something different whether it’s excitement, anger, jealousy, aggravation, or any other emotion.

    Thanks for your always enlightening articles, Marty, and here’s to allowing our emotions to be shared in a healthy manner 🙂
    Dave recently posted…The Good CurseMy Profile

    • Thank you so much for sharing your insightful thoughts on this topic Dave. You absolutely right about it not always being easy. For one thing, life being what it is, we don’t always have the luxury of stopping the moment we become aware of an unpleasant emotion to evaluate how we’re feeling. That’s why I’m such a fan of journaling, or at the very least spending some quiet reflection time at the end of the day to focus inwardly and work through these things. Thanks again!

  19. Ryan Biddulph

    Hi Marquita,

    Great stuff. My wife Kelli talks about this on her blog regularly, and we do a webinar series every week where you betcha this topic comes up. We’ve both lived a cool life because we faced, embraced (REALLY sucky) sometimes and released unpleasant but necessary to release emotions. So we could proceed from a higher energy, clearer space. It’s that resistance to experiencing your emotions that you mention, this is where most trip up. Gotta feel ’em to be free of them. You can’t get over something that’s still in you. Awesome read and fabulous interview with Donna.

    Ryan Biddulph recently posted…1 Eye-Popping Analogy for Boosting Your Online Profits QuicklyMy Profile

    • Hey Ryan, delighted you stopped by and as always appreciate your insightful commentary! I agree about Donna’s article, although I must confess I haven’t listened to the interview because (like so many others) I kind of cringe when I hear myself. Something else to work on. 🙂

%d bloggers like this: