Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Pent Up Emotions

Feelings that are not expressed get stored inside where they become destructive...Dr. Bernie S. Siegel

We do not normally differentiate between emotions and feelings. There is a view that ‘feeling’ is the response part of ‘emotion’. That is, emotion includes, in addition to feeling, perception and interpretation of it also. Many authors use these words interchangeably. When you experience an emotion physically and mentally, it means that you ‘feel it’.

(i)                  Fleeting Emotions: Emotions influence thought and action; and also are influenced by our thought and action. In day-to-day life we experience hundreds of quickly disappearing emotions. Most of them are insignificant as they do not stay in mind for more than a moment. Such fleeting emotions do not matter much.

While traveling in train we see many things. We see a calf running playfully and recklessly towards the train. For a moment we experience deep concern. Within a few seconds the calf takes a turn and joins its mother cow. We again experience a fleeting relief. That is all; both the emotions of concern and relief become forgotten matters and some other things command our attention. They are just like cinema slides getting replaced by one another fast.

(ii)                 Passing Emotions: We experience such emotions and also give some expression to them. Some feeling crops up but soon dies away. We find no need to retain the cause of that experience in mind. We move on to the next subject and hardly come back to think about it.

The coffee-vendor by mistake drops the cup and a few drops fall on your feet and pants. Anger wells up in your mind and you look at him sharply and say “Are you sleeping while working?” He looks at you apologetically and says, “Sorry Sir, It just slipped from my hands.” Your anger subsides in the same speed in which it emerged and you say, “It is all right. Be careful.”

The next day, when your wife may enquire, “What happened to your pants?” and you may remember this incident and tell her about it as a matter of fact. But that would be the end of it. 

(iii)                Staying Emotions: The incidents causing such emotions may be small or big. That is, externally, they may have left a lasting effect or not; some emotions would give roots and stay. They may also deepen with the passage of time.

A woman co-passenger, while passing your seat, dashes her bag against your face. Instead of owning her mistake and apologizing, she shouts at you in a loud voice, “Can’t you sit in your seat without obstructing the path? You seem to have no consideration that the train belongs to the public! Are you not supposed to behave better, especially when there are lady co-passengers?” Her voice is so loud and audacious that other passengers start looking at you. Being the one not accustomed to unreasonable behavior, you become frozen and are not in a position even to reply her. You feel humiliated. You are also profoundly offended. The lady has left the scene and you are sitting there motionless and deeply hurt.

The train has moved. That woman is gone forever. You are not going to meet her hereafter. But the mixed feeling of hurt, anger and humiliation is going to stay in your mind. It would give rise to a number of internal discussions. You would be saying to yourself the things which you would like to have said but left unsaid!

If left unchecked, whenever you get some leisure, this incident would be re-enacted in your mind. Your grudge would gain more and more strength and ferocity; you would even be killing her in your imagination but your negative feeling would never vanish.

In this case, you did not get any opportunity to give expression to your negative feelings by way of weeping, scowling, shouting, laughing and so on; nor did you let the incident go from your mind by conscious action of forgiving or ignoring.

Such pent-up feelings are like severe poison. We should never allow them to stay in our minds as they are likely to adversely affect our physical and mental health. The adverse effects of pent-up negative emotions like fear, anger or revenge on body are being realized greater day by day.

We should remember that no negative feeling can stay and sustain itself if we do not support it by our repeated thoughts. It is here, one’s ability to control his thoughts becomes very relevant. We should learn to get rid of such feelings by completely starving them of supportive thoughts.

The Karma Siddhantha of the Hindus is very helpful under these circumstances. “All are going to experience the fruits of their deeds, without any exception. Nobody can escape from this divine rule. That woman will be made to suffer for her arrogance and misdeed by God. Why should I remember her at all? I did not do anything against her and God knows it.” – This line of thinking would help us forget her once for all. This is actually one step easier than the usually proposed method of forgiving. Here the position is the affected person thinks, “Who am I to forgive her or punish her? My part is only performing my dharma properly during my lifetime.”

Whether you forgive her or forget her or do both, the most important thing is that you should not nourish the memory of that incident and the negative feelings created by it, by repeated thoughts. In this nobody else can help you. Only you can remove or release your negative feelings.

The famous Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar has said: Nandri marappathu nandrandru; nandrallathu andre marappathu nandru. (It is not good to forget good things; it is good to forget the bad things then and there. -  Thirukkural 108)

Let us remember that we should maintain a healthy thought-flow in our minds. Mental stagnation is bad, especially when it relates to negative emotions. It is better to release them by giving expression to them in some form; if it is not possible or advisable we should forget them once for all.

1.   Prescriptions for Living (1998) by Bernie S. Siegel, M.D.(ISBN: 0-06-019196-1)
2.   Emotions - How To Understand, Identify Release Your Emotions by Mary Kurus        

Courtesy: Mr. K S Venkataraman

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