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Return To Joy

To feel emotions is to be human. Unfortunately, the ability to face what we feel without fear, enter into those feelings, and come out the other side is a lost art. Some of us are experts at avoiding and dismissing emotions, while others of us tend to get pulled out to sea by what we or others feel – sometimes for hours, days, or even months. The latter used to be a very common experience for me. 

In an ideal world, we learn how to feel and metabolize the full range of emotions in our first two years of life by having caregivers who know how to stay connected to us in our big feelings. As they tenderly see and comfort us and then help us recover from our distress, our brain develops neural pathways that enable us to manage that emotion in the future.

When our brain has a pathway to process an emotion, such as anger or fear, we don’t have to fear that emotion. Our brain knows that we have felt that feeling before and we were okay. We might not enjoy the feeling, but we know we have what we need to face the wave of that emotion and come out the other side.

The reality though, is that all of us have gaps where we didn’t learn how to feel and process certain emotions. When our brain doesn’t know what to do with an emotion, we will stay stuck in that feeling, avoid that feeling, or resort to another emotion we can better deal with. For example, I didn’t grow up knowing how to handle shame well. So often when I made a mistake (and sometimes still now) I would feel angry because anger was a more comfortable emotion for me.

The good news is that we can learn to better manage what we feel! The key is learning how to develop new processing pathways in our brain from various emotions back to joy. This is the skill of Returning to Joy, Skill 11. Returning to joy doesn’t mean the feelings or the circumstances that brought them are completely resolved. But it does mean that the emotion is no longer ruling us because we are seen, understood, and not alone.

Do you see tendencies in yourself to avoid, dismiss, or get swallowed up by certain emotions?

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