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John W. Travis, M.D. & Regina Sara Ryan
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Experiencing and Expressing Feelings

From our earliest years, most of us have been trained that some emotions are good" while others are "bad." It was OK to feel happy. That meant that our needs were being met, and made Mommy and Daddy feel good too. But anger, fear, and sadness made people uncomfortable, so they told us, "It's not nice to be angry," "Don't be sad," or "It won't hurt; there is no reason to be afraid." At school we often saw smiling, passive behavior rewarded, and other emotional expressions - from anger to high levels of enthusiasm - punished. Anger was usually more acceptable from boys than from girls, and fear or sadness more acceptable from girls than from boys. It didn't take us long to learn that some feelings were approved of and should be sought after, and others were disapproved of and should be avoided or denied. The "bad" feelings continued, however, and now we had fewer and fewer acceptable ways to express them.

To help in coping with this confusion, many people have dulled their awareness to emotions in general; accepted the idea that feelings are bad; developed indirect ways of handling them; and lost trust in their own experience. Then they wonder why their lives aren't richer and more satisfying!

Emotions are not good or bad, they simply are. The constant interruptions of the telephone in the middle of a project that requires quiet and concentration may arouse anger. A loud crash in the middle of the night usually triggers a fear reaction. Watching a tragic movie may result in tears of sadness. How a person chooses to act in the presence of these feelings may be subject to praise or censure, but the important thing to remember is that the emotions themselves are amoral. It is the judgments we learn to connect with feelings - this one is good, this one is bad - that lead to problems. It is running away from them or holding them inside that can make us sick.

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