Today is Independence Day in the United States, the day we celebrate all the freedoms that we enjoy. Our country founded on the belief that the pursuit of happiness was a fundamental right, and that to embark down a path of happiness, we must enjoy certain rights and freedoms.
So strong is our value of freedom that we seek to impose it on the rest of the world.
As I survey the landscape, however, there is a glaring omission in the freedoms we embrace. It is a freedom that is so basic, so essential to a meaningful life, that it never had to be explicitly granted. No laws prohibit it.
And yet, this freedom is restricted by our culture.
The freedom of which I speak is Emotional Freedom: the freedom to feel what you feel, without judgment or labeling.
Emotional Freedom: The Freedom to Feel
Our culture gives great lip service to the value of freedom of speech and freedom of expression, unless that expression centers on our emotions.
When emotions are involved we are taught to keep them inside. We are a culture that is uncomfortable with public displays of emotion; especially if those emotions are not within what we consider to be acceptable emotions.
Stop and consider this phrase: Don’t get so emotional.
You’ve said or heard it before. If you’re a woman, you’ve almost certainly heard it numerous times, because it seems to be the type of advice that is directed toward women more than toward men. Even womens’ magazines, the bastions of the feminine empowerment movement, give this advice. The “skill” of “not getting emotional” is viewed as essential to success and advancement in your carreer, relationships, and life.
This is so ingrained in our culture that it’s become a standard parenting tool as well. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard a parent say this to a child:
“Use your words.”
I’m not a parent, but I wonder: what percentage of the time does that work for you when your child is crying?
What if we have it backwards?
Consider the last time you heard that someone “got so emotional.” Be honest: did you infer a negative meaning from that? We use the word “emotional” when we are referring to “bad” emotions. Emotions that should not be displayed in public.
Have you ever noticed that we don’t tell people who are laughing not to get so emotional?
No Emotions Are “Bad”
Every emotion has an intelligence to it. But because we are taught that certain emotions are “bad” we stay away from them.
We suppress, often by escaping. Food. Alcohol. Weed. Social media. Television. News. Email. Work. Busy.
Anything to avoid feeling the pain.
How is that working for us?
How free are you when you jump at the sound of the ping, when you pull down to refresh before you get out of the app, when you reach for the phone before you open your eyes?
How free are you when you shapeshift yourself to fit the expectations of others?
What we suppress controls us.
Escape keeps us locked in a prison of suffering. We get caught in the patterns of emotions unfelt and unexpressed.
A prisoner who escapes does so in the pursuit of freedom. But he is never free. He is always looking over his shoulder, wondering when the police will find him.
We must bring awareness to what we feel. Joseph Campbell described awareness as a circle with a horizontal line through it. Below the line is what’s unconscious. To the degree we haven’t contacted what’s below the line, those emotions rule us.
As we shine the light of awareness on what’s below the line our sense of being becomes enlarged. We can work with the emotion, investigating it and being with it. When we open to it, it stops controlling us.
The more we can be aware of what’s there the more we can be responsible to ourselves and others.
Responsible = able to respond. When we can acknowledge the emotion we feel and respond, we don’t have to escape.
This is real freedom.