Emotions are feelings. They happen naturally. Emotions are our response to being alive. As we are human–alive and awake–we have interactions with the world, and we experience emotions. Expressing emotions in a healthy manner is the birthright of every human being.
If we were lucky, in our childhoods, we had teachers who helped us name our emotions, and encouraged us to feel them and watch them pass.
However, many of us didn’t learn all of our emotions well. And instead of allowing them to flow through us, we clamp down and don’t feel them, or we distort the emotions from their natural purpose.
I will be teaching five emotions and for each: (a) it’s purpose; (b) a way it might be expressed naturally; and (c) how it might be expressed otherwise.
Before we examine each one, let me point out that we need to be compassionate towards ourselves when we realize we’re not expressing our emotions in the most healthy, prescribed manner.
I learned the below from my teachers Larry and Anne Lincoln and from a friend of theirs, Jacob Watson.
The five basic emotions:
The purpose of grief is to deal with loss.
The natural expression of grief is sharing our tears and our stories until we feel heard.
The distortions of grief are guilt, shame, and blame—blaming others, God, and oneself.
The purpose of anger is to deal with disappointment—when we get what we don’t want or don’t get what we want. Anger gives us the ability to assert ourselves, to say “no” when we need to.
The natural expression of anger is a two-year-old child who has a temper tantrum—a leg-kicking, screaming fit—and moves on.
The distortions of anger come from holding onto anger—having resentments, bitterness, rage, or hate.
The purpose of jealousy is growth and learning.
The natural expression of comparing ourselves with others is to emulate them. (After I met Larry, I thought, “He is the kindest person I have met, and I should be more like him.)
The distortion of jealousy is hatred—sabotaging the person who has that which we desire.
The purpose of fear is to protect ourselves—like my fear of walking on the ice. It slows us down, and keeps us cautious.
The natural expressions of fear are to fight, to freeze, and to flee.
Some distortions of fear are phobias and anxiety—like never leaving the house because a piano might fall from the sky.
The purpose of love is to express ourselves as we are.
The natural expressions of love are to express ourselves as we really are and to recognize, accept, empathize, and be kind to others as they are.
A distortion of love is prostitution–bartering expressing our authentic self for the conditional love of another, as well as possessiveness.
With regard to these five emotions, our goal is to express them naturally and to be present when we feel them. (But let’s take it easy on ourselves if we’re not quite there yet.)
Welcome your emotions. They’re an important part of your unique human experience.
Rabbi Brian Zachary Mayer resides in Portland, Oregon. He is the founder and head of Religion-Outside-The-Box oldrotb.wpengine.com, an internet-based, global group of 3.3K+ digital-age seekers. ROTB produces excellent spiritual content.