We’re taught that certain emotions are “bad” or wrong. We aren’t supposed to feel them. We’re supposed to suppress them and act like they don’t exist.
The top among these is anger. Especially if you’re a girl, or raised/socialized as one, you’re told to be quiet and “ladylike” and sweet. If you show anger, you’re bad.
This can be common in the spiritual practice world as well. If you’re truly spiritual, so the story goes, you don’t feel anger. You just accept and forgive everyone and everything and feel nothing negative at all ever, because if you do, you aren’t really spiritual.
Anger, jealousy, fear…all the emotions that some people designate as “bad” are HUMAN emotions. If you’re a human being, odds are good that you feel emotions. Feeling anger is no more “bad” than feeling joy. Emotions are not good or bad; they just are. And trying to force yourself not to feel them often results in just stuffing the emotion down into a little box in your mind—a box that might burst somewhere down the line.
The key isn’t to stop *feeling* emotions. It’s to learn healthy and productive ways to *express* them.
I was raised in a home where it was not safe for me to be angry. If I expressed anger, I was punished for it, sometimes in psychologically damaging ways. I was told I was a bad person for feeling angry. That “good little girls” don’t feel that way.
In my first marriage, expressing anger was even more dangerous to me, so I learned not to express it to my husband. Unfortunately, that meant sometimes it spilled out onto my children. But more often, I just stuffed it down into that little mental box and convinced myself I’d dealt with it and didn’t feel it anymore.
When I was finally in a place where it was safe for me to express anger, I had no clue how to do so. I had no tools for managing my emotions—any emotions, regardless of what they were—because I’d spent so much of my life trying not to allow myself to feel them. So when something small sparked anger in me, the anger became huge and harmful, with lots of ranting and swearing and punching of mattresses and pillows, because I didn’t know how else to handle an emotion I was terrified to feel.
Note that I am not making excuses. I handled my anger very poorly a number of times, and at times that caused emotional harm to others. I am working to repair relationships that were damaged because of this.
Despite the reasons, ultimately we are each responsible for our own emotions and how we display them, and although I didn’t have the knowledge, skills, or tools to display my anger in less harmful ways, I still take responsibility for how I did display it and the consequences thereof. Part of my healing journey has been repairing those relationships, making amends where possible, and owning my stuff. Part has been accepting myself as a good *person* despite the things I said that I can’t take back, because while I *own* my emotions and my actions, I am not the things I feel and do. Emotions are neither good nor bad; actions can be, but taking a negative action does not automatically make someone a bad person.
It took a lot of work and therapy, but I did learn. I still sometimes get angrier than a situation warrants, but I am now able to recognize when I’m angry beyond what makes sense. I’m able to walk away from a situation that’s causing anger, and sometimes even to say to whomever else is involved, “I’m feeling very angry right now and need to step away.” I go someplace where I can be alone to work through what I’m feeling, and when I feel calm enough, I return to the other person and say, “I’m feeling angry about that thing you did, because it hurt me in this way. I’d like to stop feeling angry with you, so I’d like to talk about this and see what we can do.” It works a lot better.
Feeling emotions is NORMAL. Even emotions we’ve been taught are wrong or bad. Trying to suppress or ignore those emotions can be harmful to us and can lead to them coming up in less manageable ways down the road.
We also dishonor ourselves when we deny our emotions. Many of us who have experienced abuse and trauma have a child self living within our minds, a part of ourselves that became frozen at a time of trauma. In DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy, a technique often used in treating borderline personality disorder and PTSD among other things), that part of us is referred to as the “emotional mind.” In some forms of Witchcraft, it’s Younger Self. Whatever you call it, it’s a part of us, and it’s part of our healing journey to accept, nurture, and work with it. If we’re telling ourselves, “I can’t feel angry, it’s bad, I’m a bad person for feeling this way,” we’re continuing the abuse that damaged us in the first place. We’re taking the words and concepts forced on us by others and internalizing them, and that continues the damage.
Instead, I’ve found it’s far more productive to feel the emotion. To say, “I feel really angry, and that’s okay; how can I deal with this?” Even to express fear of feeling the anger, if that’s present for you. Some coping strategies for anxiety and PTSD can be used for anger as well.
Allowing yourself to feel those emotions and express them in *healthy* ways can help lessen them, and honors you as the awesome human you are.
You aren’t bad if you feel anger. You aren’t “not truly spiritual.” You are human, and you have the right to feel however you feel. You don’t have the right to express those feelings in harmful ways, but you one hundred percent have the right to feel them, and to express them in nonharmful ways. (And if you do express anger or another emotion in a way that’s harmful, that still doesn’t make you a bad person. It still just makes you human. Make apologies, make amends, and get help with learning more effective management strategies if it’s an ongoing problem… but accept yourself as a good *person* who just needs help to learn better *actions*.)
As a final note, if you’re a parent, please teach your children that emotions are always okay to feel, and teach them healthy, productive ways to express them. Show them that they, too, are good people, and that you love them no matter what emotions they feel. Show them how to love and accept themselves even when the anger seems big and scary, or the jealousy overwhelms them, or the fear seems to cover everything else. Let’s break the cycle of people who believe and preach that it’s bad and wrong to feel human emotions—and the people who, because of those beliefs and preaching, believe that *they* are bad and wrong.