Sometimes I ask a client: “What’s your relationship with depression?” (or anger, or anxiety — you name it). Often I get a funny look back, and a “What do you mean?”
The way I see it, we have relationships with our emotions. Take anger, for example. Maybe we keep it at arm’s length (my anger makes me anxious, so I try to control it). Maybe we bury it so deep we don’t even know it exists (I never get angry). Maybe we are seduced by it, swept away by its force – we fall unconscious and it explodes (I lost my temper). Maybe we burst into tears when we’re angry (I’m confused and overwhelmed by this feeling; or perhaps, it’s safer to show my vulnerability than my power).
All these are different kinds of relationships, and indeed we can have different relationships with different emotions – close and comfortable with one, unconscious with another, uptight around yet another. When we take a thoughtful look inside, we get a better sense of how we’re dancing with each emotion.
In the best-case scenario, the emotion arises. I recognize it, greet it warmly, and let it move inside of me in a way that brings me new information, new insight. I meet it with openness, curiosity, and patience, regardless of the pleasure or pain quotient of the experience. I don’t block or repress the emotion, and I don’t blindly identify with it, either. Awareness is present at all moments — the kind of awareness that allows the feeling to be just as it is.
In a fulfilled relationship like this, there is no distance between the emotion and myself, no block to its flow. It gets to run its course, whether that is painful or pleasurable (generally the more space it has to move in, the more pleasurable the experience is). When the wave has moved fully through, I am left changed, informed of some aspect reality I didn’t know before.
The word emotion comes from the Old French emouvoir, to stir up, which has its origins in the Latin root ex-movere, out + to move. Bottom line: emotions are meant to move us, and to move in us. How we dance with that movement makes all the difference.