How to Exercise Healthy Emotional Expression

Unexpressed emotions will never die, they are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways – Sigmund Freud

When it comes to emotional expression guys are at a disadvantage. We are not very good at it. Some might say that our brains are missing the emotional chip.  I disagree. Part of being human is to feel and express emotions.  This is natural.

Generally speaking, boys are raised differently that girls. Girls are taught to be comfortable expressing their feelings. Young boys are trained by their dads to avoid certain emotions like fear, sadness, loneliness, or depression.  On the other hand, boys are encouraged to express anger and frustration.  Why? Bravery and confidence are important as future providers and protectors of their family.  So young boys learn early on to suppress the “weaker” emotions and express the “manly” emotions.

Fast-forward into adult relationships, guys struggle with identifying, let alone expressing emotions.  So when their significant other wants to connect emotionally, guys struggle.  If a wife says, “How was your day?”, a husband may respond with “fine”.  So much for emotional connection!

Emotions need exercise too!

In this current series, “My Total Fitness Plan” I covered two of the five levels of fitness: physical and intellectual. In this blog, I want to explore ways you can exercise healthy emotional fitness. This is very likely a “no brainer” for women because they totally outclass men when it comes to exercising their emotions.  Be that as it may, some women share with me that their problem is not suppressing their feelings. Rather, they are more concerned about managing the intensity of emotional expression.

One goal in emotional fitness is avoiding the polar extremes of suppressing or erupting feelings. Another goal is to find healthy outlets for emotional expression.  The key here is to open the portals of emotion so you can connect with your feelings.

[Tweet “One goal in emotional fitness is avoiding the polar extremes of suppressing or erupting feelings. – Don Olund”]

So. let’s examine four practical ways you can exercise healthy emotional expression.

Do things that open the portals of emotion

For men and women alike, portals of anger and frustration are open on a daily basis.  No need for help here.  If anything, they need a time-out.  I’m talking more about other portals of emotion such as passion, love, joy, happiness, sadness, loneliness, fear, silliness, or gratefulness.  Notice how I included pleasant and unpleasant emotions?  Emotions need expression, a release point.  If we do not let them out they come out in “uglier ways” as Sigmund Freud said in the quote above.

So, how do we open the portals of emotion?

Their are many ways to activate emotion.  It boils down to personal preference.  Here some things I do on a weekly basis to keep my portals of emotion open.

  • Listen to a wide array of music genres that activate emotion (Check out Qello)
  • Watch movies that move me emotionally
  • Engage in sports activities and recreation I enjoy for fun
  • Write in a journal and process my thoughts and feelings about what’s going on in my life
  • Open up to family members and a few very close friends I can trust with my feelings
  • Meet regularly with my counselor/mentor to process my life
  • Engage in my spirituality to express my deepest feelings to God
  • Channel my inner Peter Pan who needs time to play (See the movie HOOK to understand what I mean here)
Speaking of play, one of my kids’ favorite stories is about something spontaneous I did one Thanksgiving Day morning. They were in their pajamas watching Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  A marching band was playing MC Hammer’s song “U Can’t Touch This”.  I quietly walked down the stairs. About halfway, I leaped over the railing, landing on the living room floor. Spontaneously, I broke into the MC Hammer dance in my zubaz pants. They laughed hysterically!  If you seen me dance you probably would too!

Tune in to your emotions during the day

Again, this is easier for women than it is for men. So guys, this will take a lot more effort on your part.  The purpose here is to have an awareness of emotions.  Primary emotions often lay underneath secondary emotions.  Let me explain. When I ask clients how they feel, the most common response is frustration or anger.  These are secondary emotions.  When I press a little further more emotions surface. I often here people say, “Well actually, I am feeling worried” or “…hurt” or “…sad” or “…depressed.”  These are the deeper, yet primary emotions we tend not to notice.  A parent may be angry at their child (secondary emotion) but actually feel worried (primary emotion) that they are failing somehow. So, if you are feeling frustrated or angry, reflect a little deeper.  Ask yourself, “What’s underneath my anger?”  Tune in and listen for what other emotion may bubble up.  If the emotions are unpleasant then you will need a release point.

Release Unpleasant Emotions

Tuning into emotions sets the stage for the third step in exercising healthy emotional expression.  This is about how to release unpleasant emotions like anger, fear, sadness, loneliness, etc… It takes three simple steps.  Watch the video clip.

Develop an Attitude of Gratitude

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day, a time in our nation where we pause to give thanks for the blessings in life. While I enjoy this holiday, I find that cultivating an attitude of gratitude every day is important.  Why? Giving thanks daily is a powerful way to exercise healthy emotional expression.  Expressing gratitude every day keeps things in perspective.  Furthermore, it keeps your heart happy. I encourage you to find 5 things you can express gratitude for every day.  See how this practice effects your mood and emotions.  I bet others will notice a more positive and cheery disposition in you.

Now it’s your turn

How do you exercise healthy emotional expression?  Share an idea or two in the comment section below. Did this blog trigger some thoughts about ways you can open the portals of emotion for yourself? I hope so.  My Total Fitness Plan Booklet is designed to help you identify and plan your strategy for emotional fitness.  For a free copy, fill out the form on the right.  This is a Christmas gift for my subscribers that is available for a limited time. Finally, if you have a twitter account, will you please tweet this quote to your followers? Thank you! [Tweet “One goal in emotional fitness is avoiding the polar extremes of suppressing or erupting feelings. – Don Olund”]