Don’t Kill the Messenger

By: Benjamin Reisterer, MA, LPC

Emotions are tricky. We tend to have our favorites that we pursue while also keeping a list of those we avoid at all costs. As such, our relationship to our emotions tends to be judgemental and dualistic, immediately reacting to them as either “good” or “bad” when they arrive.

Human beings are information gathering machines. This allows us to constantly refine our outlook in understanding ourselves, others, and the word. However, once we take a judgemental stance, we tend to stop collecting new information and only pay attention to data that lines up with our pre-existing conclusions. This is a common but limiting and often harmful practice.

Human beings are also messy. We cause and experience both pain and healing as we live a series of ruptures and repairs throughout our relationships and lives. There are often countless options all with countless potential outcomes that are both seen and unseen. Most of us strive to do the best we can. With this in mind, the problem with a dualistic outlook is that there is no room for gray in a nuanced world full of nuanced individuals. With a dualistic lense, everything is viewed as either good or bad, right or wrong.

If we allow ourselves to cultivate a judgemental or dualistic relationship with our emotions, we sell ourselves painfully short. There is a whole range of primary emotions and each houses an entire spectrum of secondary emotions. The reason there is such a large emotional palette to paint from is that they are meant to be messengers. They are not meant to be viewed and treated as merely “good” or “bad,” rather they are to be welcomed with attention and curiosity.

If we suspend our judgement and dualistic relationship with our emotions and instead begin to slow down and unpack the messages they bring, we open up a whole new opportunity for growth. This practice (yes, practice) is difficult. Often times the messages we receive are painful, sad, and inconvenient. They can stand in stark contrast to our hopes, desires, egos, and defense mechanisms. However, it also gives us insight into the how, why, and when of our experiences. We start to recognize what is truly beneficial and what is actually harmful. We move from “good/bad” to understanding. This engagement allows us to move into responding with intention and authenticity and away from reacting. We become more aware and alive.

So what is your relationship with your emotions? How do they show up? When do they show up? What do you do with them? How do they impact you physically? Who or what is around when they show up? Are you curious or are you judgemental? Do you know their names? Do you know what they are trying to tell you?

A relationship with a good therapist is often the most helpful thing you can do when unpacking the messages of your emotions and experiences. I’d encourage you to check out what our group of therapists have to offer and see if you feel that any of them would be a good fit for you on this journey. Additionally, I have created a resource that I hope is helpful. It is a free Android and iOS app called MetaFi, designed to help you begin to pay closer attention and cultivate a deeper relationship with your emotions and increase your self-awareness.

Before you go, I want to invite you today into a deeper relationship with your emotions. However you choose to do this, please understand that relationships take effort and an investment of time to grow. So when they next arrive on your doorstep, work to suspend judgement and welcome them with an open curiosity so you can begin to name and understand the messages they bring. This is often the first powerful step towards self-awareness and change.