I remember the day I wailed with grief.
The moment I locked all the doors because of my anxiety.
The time I boiled with anger.
The precise moment I felt stood in blissful sunshine and bathed in happiness. (I was on an ordinary street, doing ordinary things on a summers day in Toronto, Canada and I felt like the sun was shining only for me.)
I also remember saying to my therapist “I feel nothing” and her asking me to say “I feel numb” instead.
That pivot was a revelation.
I had no idea that underneath ‘nothing’ and ‘fine’ were a plethora of emotions I wasn’t aware of or able to connect to.
I only remember the emotions that were so big my body could no longer contain them, my unconscious could no longer mask them, and they burst forth like an exploding paint can.
After more therapy, somatic work and a ton of journaling, I am more in touch with my emotions and less reactive. And yet they can still slip from my conscious radar so quickly that I can blink and miss them. And it’s hard to process feelings we can’t feel.
The purpose of our emotions
Emotions provide our compass. Our direction. Our guide as to where we want to go and how we want to live.
In Enneagram terms, the Head centre provides the plan and the Body center provides the action, but first the Heart must provide the direction.
(That doesn’t mean Heart types have a leg up, they are just as disconnected from their real feelings as everyone else. But their relationship to their emotions will be different to Head and Body types.)
Our emotions tell us what we like and dislike, how we wanted to be treated, what we value, what is important to us and what isn’t. They tell us what we want in life and how we want to live it.
And every emotion helps us get clear on what that direction looks like.
The problem with emotional expression
The problem with emotions is when we stop ourselves from feeling, expressing and processing them.
There are many reasons for that, many of which start as cultural rules that become internalised beliefs in childhood.
Our emotional life is shaped by:
- How our culture permits emotions to be expressed
- Which emotions our culture allows us to express
- Our childhood experiences with each emotion
- How our body holds any trauma we have experienced
- Our ego’s defensive structures and personality patterns
- How much practice we have had expressing our emotions
Without effective release, emotions get bottled up and explode out in intense ways. (Usually at incredibly inconvenient times.)
We might fear anger because we think the only way to express it is through rage, yelling and violence. We might fear sadness and fear because they might leave us looking or feeling weak, meek and exposed.
And while many of us we live in a culture that lionises happiness, we can also fear happiness. Fear that feeling good might disconnect us from the past, from people, and simply be unsafe.
All emotions are good emotions
We live in a society that dictates which emotions are okay and which aren’t.
That can be by gender: anger is masculine and sadness is feminine.
But also by the culture you live in. Cultures that are more passionate (France, Argentina, etc) expressing emotions intensely is the norm. Quieter or more passive cultures (England, Canada, New Zealand, etc) expect emotions to be expressed only under certain conditions and rarely in a way that might upset others.
Of course, all stereotypes are generalisations.
So ask yourself,
- In your family and country of origin, how are emotions expressed?
- Which emotions are given a place in traditions and rituals and which are not?
While our cultures tell us that certain emotions are bad or can only expressed in certain ways, that isn’t how emotions work.
All emotions are good emotions as they inform us of something.
Anger is good. Sadness is good. Fear is good. Happiness is good.
Anger helps us to know when our boundaries have been crossed. It helps us stand up for ourselves and others. It connects us to our personal power to create change, for ourselves and others.
Sadness lets us know we have lost something we loved and we cared for. That might lead us to make a change in the future, but also to acknowledge what matters to us.
Fear helps us know when our survival is threatened. That can be small, like making sure we have a jumper to wear when it’s cold, but also to know when not to walk down a dark alley. It can also mean being concerned about the safety of yourself and others.
Happiness occurs when our needs are met and we feel safe, connected and in control.
However, each Enneagram type relationship to those emotions distorts how they are experienced and expressed.
Enneagram and Emotions
When you reflect on your relationship tin each of these emotions, it can be useful to see it through the lens of your Enneagram type to create some distance.
For example, Eights are more comfortable with anger than with fear or sadness, as those emotions can make them feel weak and exposed.
Enneagram Nines keep their emotional expression to a minimum, both internally and externally. They express anger in passive-resistant or passive-aggressive ways.
Enneagram Ones can be more comfortable with anger, but in a more gritted way, through irritation and frustration.
Enneagram Twos are more comfortable expressing the emotions deemed okay by the people around the, often happiness and sadness.
Enneagram Threes tend to stay positive as that helps them achieve their goals, but can use irritation to keep things moving forward. They have a lot of sadness that they aim to keep at a distance.
Enneagram Fours hold onto their feelings by attaching stories to them, so they can stay in sadness and other intense emotions long.
Enneagram Fives compartmentalise their feelings so as to not be overwhelmed by them. They prefer to process them in private away from people.
Enneagram Sixes get wrapped responding to fear, although they are m ore likely to describe it as anxiety.
Enneagram Sevens use happiness defensively as a way to avoid feelings that could make them, uncomfortable such as sadness, anger and fear.
Each type has a distorted relationship with each emotion. While it takes some effort, untangling those distortions makes it easier to process each feeling as it arises, and to learn from it.
Sitting with our emotions
Most emotions need about 15 seconds of processing time. That’s four breaths in and out.
It might seem like an eternity when you’re in it, but it’s not that long.
Bigger emotions and more intense experiences need more time. They can also need extra assistance to process, such as writing them out, creating with them, moving with them, talking with friends and sometimes, even professional support.
Activities that can help with processing these bigger emotions include:
And let’s not forget yoga.
Here are a few reflections questions to help you learn more about your relationship with your emotions.
- What do you believe is okay and not okay about expressing the four emotions?
- How do you express each emotion in small and large ways?
- What are some of your key memories about each emotion?
- How does your current way of processing and expressing emotions contribute to how your life is playing out?
- If you could process your emotions in a more balanced way, how might that change your:
- Physical health?
- Career / work?
- Creative expression?
Remember, all emotions are good emotions, as each one brings us vital information. So do your best to listen each time an emotion arises.