Katja Laurien

Inspiring your spiritual journey

Understanding the Message of Your Emotions

4. October 2020 • Katja Laurien

The guest house
This human being is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival
A joy, a depression, a meanness -
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows
who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thoughts, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

- Rumi

From my last posts I guess it has become pretty obvious that I consider the honouring of all our feelings, good and bad, to be extremely important. We simply can’t skip this part if we wish to transform our pain and grow on a spiritual level. Even though it sometimes seems as if they only show up in our lives to make us miserable (oftentimes right at the moment when everything seems to be going well), they actually have a deeper purpose. Our emotions are our guides, they point us in the right direction, they protect us, help us strengthen our psyche and force us to stay mindful and awake to our bodies and experiences.

In fact, they are our natural cleansing system, the way we “digest” whatever we experience on a daily basis. The problems arise when we stay unconscious of the message behind the feelings and therefore don’t find adequate ways to deal with them. Oftentimes, we seem to find only two ways to deal with them: either expressing or repressing them. Whenever we express our feelings without knowing what really lies behind the emotion, we often do so in an uncontrolled manner. We wildly express ourselves, without actually understanding why we’re behaving the way we do. We feel misunderstood, alone and regret our behaviour. Since we don’t understand ourselves, how can we expect someone else to do so? We feel controlled by the emotion which is why many of us choose to turn the stick around and aggressively try to control the emotion by repressing it.

The repression of emotions is extremely common and ever since I’m aware of it, I’m amazed at how quick and subtle it happens. We’re used to being “strong”, “independent” and “positive”, as society told us that these traits are what make people great and admirable. The expression of our emotions often harms other people and ourselves and therefore we have to control our destructive behavior. In a sense, society is not even wrong, but this shouldn’t happen at the cost of our emotions. We live in an either/or society, where we focus heavily on dualities and we like to categorize people into niches. In my opinion, it’s time to move towards a holistic view of human existence, in which we all embody all sides of human experience: the positive and the negative.

“How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side if I am to be whole.”

- Carl Jung

“No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.”

- Carl Jung

That’s why I love the work of Carl Jung. He reminds us that we can’t force ourselves into being all “good” and “perfect”. It’s our duty to face our shadow sides and it’s a necessity if we want to become “whole”. Being “whole” essentially is as close as we can get to being “perfect”. In order to integrate our shadow sides into our personality we need to find a different way of dealing with our emotions. Expression and repression are not the only two options. We can also just allow the negative feelings to come to the surface, see them, acknowledge them, feel them, learn from them. Our emotions don’t have to be destructive if only we add mindfulness and consciousness into the equation.

In the end, our emotions bear a message which they want us to read. When we express the emotions without actually looking at the message, the emotion will come back again, oftentimes even more painfully. And when we repress them they will be acted out in addictions, neuroses, compulsions and psychosomatic illnesses. Repression is nothing more than resistance and I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to let go of the resistance in order to get back to the flow of life.

“Suffering is pain multiplied by resistance.”

- Buddhist saying

One way of letting go, at least partially, of the resistance is by understanding our emotions. What are they actually there for? How do they help us become whole again? What are the messages of our unconscious? Which part of our psyche is in disbalance and needs attention? Really understanding something will inevitably result in acceptance and friendliness towards it. Every single of our emotions is valuable, if we learn how to honour and respect them. Not only will we be friendly and understanding towards our own emotions, but also towards those of others, as we know that great power lies underneath them.

Fear - Cultivation of Wisdom and Intuition

The benefit of fear is obviously a no-brainer: It’s life saving! Without fear we wouldn’t be alert and focused enough to gracefully follow our gut feeling which oftentimes requires quick action. It’s our fear that makes us carefully scan our environment whenever we are in a potentially dangerous or novel situation, such as when we’re driving a car or travelling to an unknown country. At these moments we’re often unaware that our fear is active, providing us with the needed focus to take appropriate action.

In that sense, having a healthy sense of fear makes you feel safe. If you can allow your fear, you’ll know that your instinct and intuition are working for you, that you’re focused and attentive and that you’re capable of reacting in the right way whenever you need to. If fear is used correctly it will lead to discernment and wisdom which is outside of the realm of the conscious. You’ll be able to act in surprising, maybe illogical, but life-saving ways your conscious mind couldn’t have conjured up. Instinctively knowing how to act in uncertain or novel situations will make you a lot more grounded and centered, instead of fearful and worried.

Being excessively worried or anxious therefore are actually signs that our fear is blocked or obstructed. When our fear is not working properly, our instincts are off, we don’t focus properly and we have difficulties interpreting the social and environmental cues. This is what makes us feel so anxious. A major reason for the obstruction of your free flowing fear is the lack of healthy boundaries. Without strong and healthy boundaries, we see a danger in all kinds of situations, making our fear work over hours. So, the problem here is not the fear, but the workload we’re giving our fear.

Anger - Building Healthy Boundaries

So, how do we fix those boundaries? With our anger. Anger points us towards boundary violations and broken boundaries. Therefore, our anger wants us to either protect our boundaries or restore the broken parts. In order to do this, there’s no need to express your anger immediately to the outer world. Even though you’re trying to set the boundaries which protect you from the outer world, the first step is to check your boundaries from the inside. Which part of you is in need of protection? Which one needs to be restored? In the end, your anger is in service of your healing and therefore you should turn your attention to whatever needs healing inside yourself, which you will never be able to find on the outside.

Channeling your anger therefore means re-establishing your personal boundary by attending your own personal wound, so you can feel safe again. These boundaries are important, as they prevent you from painful enmeshment with other people. Eventually, healthy boundaries are a prerequisite for building any relationship, be it with ourselves or with others. Without boundaries, we would take on every single wish and demand, pain and sorrow of those around us which, on the long run, will drain us and the relationship we’re trying to nourish. Through our free flowing anger, we can communicate respectfully and authentically our boundaries and at the same time find it easier to respect those of others.

Forgiveness will also come easily, once our boundaries are restored. We just have to make sure to first restore our boundaries and then allow forgiveness to come, as premature forgiveness can be seen as an attack on our own inner fortress. As long as our boundaries are endangered, any attempt of forgiveness is disrespectful towards our psyche, as we haven’t yet acknowledged its message and haven’t yet healed the original wound.

I experienced this kind of “healthy anger” some week after my partner left me earlier this year. Right from the start I stood behind his decision, not because I agreed, but simply because I respected his decision. Who was I to judge with whom he had to be in a relationship? But then after some weeks I got flooded by anger, pure anger. It was so intense, it made me tremble. What infuriated me most was that he had thrown away our harmonious relationship out of the blue! How could he just “throw” me away? He even described our relationship as “perfect” the day he broke up, so how could he just leave like that? I felt all this anger for his careless way of handling my love and I felt contempt for him being such a coward.

Even though I was boiling inside, I knew on a very deep level that my ego had projected my anger on him. He was the one who had triggered this wound, but essentially my anger didn’t have to do anything with him and therefore I didn’t need to share this information with him. This was my lesson and I needed to look inside and see where the anger came from.

Even though the intense anger only lasted for about a week, I used the energy it had released over a couple of months to look into the underlying message. I realised that my anger had pointed me towards a part of my boundary that was in need of restoration: I needed to allow myself to be loved. I had no boundaries towards whom I was giving my love. As long as they received my love, I was happy. Receiving love in return was something I obviously wasn’t too concerned about. Later, my ex confessed that he actually never really opened his heart for me which confirmed my feeling that the anger had shown up to warn me from getting involved with someone who can’t really see me and value me due to a closed heart.

But as always, every stick has two ends, and I found out that I had, without even noticing it, build a wall around my heart which I first needed to work on. My protective wall consisted of an image I had constructed of myself as being strong and independent, leaving little space for my vulnerable and needy side. Obviously, this had made it very difficult for anyone to really see me in first place. In my case, there was not a lack of boundaries, but a boundary built from the wrong material. My boundary was rigid, closed off, one-sided. It seemed that to me giving love was safe, but receiving it was obviously terrifying.

This experience has helped me to build healthy boundaries in giving as well as receiving. I can allow myself now to give my love to someone who can actually receive and also to allow myself to receive love from someone who’s capable of giving. In order to reach that goal, I know that I need to be capable of showing my true self, the self that doesn’t always have everything together, the self that’s needy at times and that longs to be valued and wanted. I also know now that I can work on my own protective wall, but it’s not my task to work on someone else’s closed heart. This insight has helped me to respect the boundaries of other people and to stop fighting, controlling or manipulating others in order to get my needs met.

Without the immense power of my anger, I might not have had the strength to dive that deep into my own psyche and confront myself with my own broken parts. If I hadn’t honoured my anger as messenger, I might have missed this lesson that I’m now so grateful for. For sure, I would have overlooked the true meaning of my anger if I either had dumped all my anger on my ex partner (and would not have looked at the bigger picture or what my own role was in this) or if I had simply repressed my emotion and forever would have been satisfied with a closed-off heart. It’s the middle-path of neither repressing nor expressing it which has helped me understand the message of my soul. And it has saved my relationship with my ex, because we are actually really good friends now :)

Sadness - Letting Go and Detoxifying

Is there anything more relieving than a deep and honest cry? I’m pretty sure you agree with me on this one. The goal of sadness is to help us let go of things that don’t serve us (anymore). It helps us get back into the flow by releasing mental and physical toxins (we actually release toxins from our bodies through our tears). In that sense sadness is our natural detox process which definitely deserves to be honoured as such.

Really going through your sadness means that you’ll have to let go of some toxic or outdated attachment which you have held until that point. The moment you allow yourself to detach from this person, idea or situation, you’ll inevitably feel hollow. You’ll have to truly encounter pain and emptiness before you can move to the next phase in which you’ll feel grounded, relieved and wiser than before.

Be aware that you need to have strong boundaries first in order to contain your sadness safely. Therefore, you’ll need to allow yourself to really feel your anger in case it’s there. To come back to the example of my ex-partner, the release of my anger was naturally followed by a deep sadness. I missed him a lot, I missed our conversations, the hikes with him, his sense of humor and just being around him. We had a very harmonious relationship which left me almost entirely with good memories. Many people asked me how I could have let go off him so easily even though he seemed to be the love of my life. In hindsight I see that my anger has helped me a lot. My anger allowed me to set my boundary straight again and to allow myself to desire a relationship in which both parties give and receive love.

After I had realized that I couldn’t achieve this goal with my ex-partner, I moved into a state of deep grief in which I simply honoured and let go of all those wonderful experiences I had with him. On top of that, I definitely also needed to let go of the dreams and hopes we had as a couple. If I hadn’t set my boundaries first with the help of my anger, I had probably run back to my ex begging him to stay with me even though being with him would be against the will of my soul. Or, if I had set too rigid boundaries, I wouldn’t have even granted myself to energetically honour and release this relationship. It would have stayed trapped in my system, hunting me with inexplicable and unwanted thoughts, feelings and behaviours and a deep feeling of desperation. So, next time you feel your sadness coming to the surface, make sure you create healthy boundaries first in which you can safely contain your sadness, allowing it to release the negative energies, leaving you with more space for new experiences, people or ideas.

Shame & Guilt - Evaluation of Human Capacities

As anger helps you establish your boundaries from the outer world (what people do to you), shame and guilt help you to establish these boundaries from the inner world (what you do to others). Shame and guilt help you to observe and assess your behaviour to the outer world, but also towards yourself. It’s your personal internal code of ethics which eventually does not only provide you with guidelines, but, if duly honoured, also gives you the power to make amends or move towards positive change and action.

As John Bradshaw states so beautifully in his book “Healing the Shame that Binds Us” (highly recommended by the way!), it is our healthy shame that allows us to experience our limits as human beings. It’s a humbling experience which does not only bring us back to reality, but actually gives us more personal power, as we know our inner boundaries and choose to expand our energy within those limits. We only drain ourselves with the need to be omnipotent superheroes, so we can thank our shame for showing us the limits of our capabilities. It also allows us to be vulnerable and needy, to admit that we need help, that we need healthy relationships with others and that can’t handle everything all by ourselves.

Shame and guilt start to become toxic when these emotions are not a momentary reaction to a specific event, but when they’re internalized as a state of being. Unfortunately, this is the case for too many amongst us, as shame is oftentimes used by adults as a tool to “educate” children. They highlight the kid’s bad behaviour, hoping to discourage future misbehavings. What adults unfortunately often forget is that children are naturally egocentric and don’t have an understanding yet of the powerlessness of their caregivers. Consequently, they internalize this shame and instead of thinking that they made a mistake, they believe that they are a mistake. This feeling of being innately flawed makes it so difficult for those kids later in life to actually try to repair their mistake. They feel doomed to fail right from the start.

When people suffer from toxic shame, they often have problems estimating their humanness. They are either “less than human” when they consider themselves to be the biggest failure of the century or they are “more than human” when they try to cover up their shame with perfectionism. So, in a way, healthy shame and guilt give us the permission to allow ourselves to be human and imperfect by exploring our inner limits supported by our ethical standards. This inner exploration will provide us with the necessary tools to use our capabilities in the best possible way, so we can create a healthy environment for ourselves and for others.

Hatred - Shedding Light on the Darkness

When we feel hatred towards someone or a group of people, there’s a serious need to turn inward. Such intense feelings of hatred and disgust always point to some part in our own disowned shadow. As I’ve stated earlier, we are all “whole”, meaning we are good and bad, beautiful and ugly, smart and stupid, courageous and fearful, etc. Unfortunately, society oftentimes only allows us to acknowledge one part of ourselves, which leads us to bury the other part in our subconscious, forming the “shadow”. These are not only so-called negative traits, but can actually be pretty awesome traits which for some reason were dangerous to display during our childhood years.

Whenever we feel hatred towards another, we inevitably don’t feel “whole”. If we were whole, we wouldn’t feel the need to attack someone else, to treat someone disrespectful or to feel superior towards someone else. So, hatred points out the part of us that wants to be complete again. This part can be found in our shadow.

Hatred occurs when our ego finds a person on the outside onto whom to project our inner lives. Just like the story I told about my anger, we need to be aware that there’s no need to act out our hatred, but instead to try to understand what the projection is trying to mirror back to us. The goal of hatred is to awaken our awareness and to make our unconscious conscious - to shed light on the darkness. It points us to the parts in us we’re not (yet) ready to live out, but which are in dire need of being seen and acknowledged.

Once again, with dark I don’t only refer to “negative” or “bad” qualities, we can as well project our best qualities onto someone else by idolizing or admiring them. Being aware of the projections you put onto another is a very helpful way to get closer to your shadow material, which eventually wants to be brought to consciousness. As long as your shadow is tucked away in your unconsciousness, you will continue being “controlled” by it which means you’ll either uncontrollably hate someone or you will excessively adore and admire others which will lead to disappointment, as eventually they are also simply human beings.

Eventually, there is no problem in disliking people or not wanting to be around specific people, but as long as they exert some control on your psyche via projections or enmeshment, there’s work to do! By honouring and working through your hatred, you will be able to accept others more easily for their humanness, which will dissolve the power they exert on you. On top of that, it will also enable you to accept your own humanness with all its aspects (good and bad) which will eventually lead to a feeling of completeness and individuation (to speak in Jungian terms). Only when we’ve really integrated our shadow will we be able to truly shine our light.

Jealousy & Envy - Social Security Assessment

Jealousy and envy are both emotions which we all would like to suppress. We’re ashamed of having these feelings, thinking that they reflect how insecure, untrusting and unloving we are deep inside. But just like any other of the emotions, it’s important to allow these feelings to surface. These feelings can be considered the “danger-detectors” of our social world. How safe are we in our primary relationship? And is our social standard guaranteed? Or is there a part that needs to be healed and restored in order to attain social well-being?

Jealousy can give us some valuable insights either into the behaviour of our partners or of unconscious beliefs within ourselves. Whenever we’re confronted with jealousy we need to get clear on its source. Is it really a reaction to inappropriate behaviour from your partner? Then make sure to set clear boundaries which serve your well-being. In many cases, the problem is not our partner, but a lack of self-esteem within ourselves which results in insecurity. Try to follow the direction your jealousy is pointing you at. Where does your feeling of unworthiness come from? Do you maybe hold false beliefs that keep you from being able to trust anyone or feel secure within a relationship?

Instead of pushing your jealousy away, allow it to give you the information you need to feel secure in your relationship. You don’t have to be ashamed of being jealous, it’s actually very natural. Our primary relationships are crucial to our emotional well-being, so fearing a break in this relationship is very legitimate. We have the right to follow our intuition and feel uneasy whenever we see a threat to our relationship. Suppressing this emotion is what makes it worse and what causes us to react in ways which are out of proportion. We need to allow ourselves to let the feeling come up and to openly talk about it without having to blame or shame anyone.

Envy does not alert you to your security when it comes to intimate relationships, but points more towards your security within a social group. It helps you to ensure your well-being within the realm of resources and recognition and helps you to identify unfair treatment. Similar to jealousy, this might mean that you have to reset your boundaries towards the outer world, but it might as well mean that you have to double-check your inner world. Do you maybe hold false beliefs that keep you from realising your desired social well-being? Are you suppressing specific needs because of an old childhood trauma? Obviously, our envy is trying to communicate with us what it is we need in order to feel fulfilled and happy within our social structures. So, it’s our task to listen to our envy and to find out what it is we truly want and why we can’t seem to get it. Allowing ourselves to really feel our envy will make it a lot easier to act in healthy and productive ways and to reach our goals.

I would like to finish this post with a quote from the book “The Language of Emotions” by Karla McLaren which has inspired me to write this post. If you’re interested in diving even deeper into the hidden messages of your emotions, I recommend reading the book. The book offers more in-depth information on the emotions and the interaction between them and provides tips on how to deal with the specific emotions in yourself and in others. For now, I’ll leave you with the quote, hoping that this post has encouraged you to build a bridge between the conscious and unconscious with the deliberate use of your precious emotions.

“When the psyche has been reintegrated, there is no longer a knee-jerk rush toward distraction, avoidance, addiction or dissociation; therefore the inner world becomes a stable place in which clear thinking can occur and the emotions can be honoured and channeled. When the emotions are allowed to contribute their brilliant and unceasing energies to the psyche, they provide a flowing conveyance into and through the underworld of trauma - they provide the energy and information needed in each part of the journey. When the psyche is integrated, the body can awaken and contribute its memories, abilities and knowledge to the process, while the emotions can help relieve and ameliorate pains, symptoms and behaviours the body brings to consciousness.”