“I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.”
- Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
From a young age, we are taught that we need to learn to control our emotions. As toddlers we are expected to behave, denying ourselves the tears or the anger of our latest temper tantrum. This carries on into our childhood as we learn the difference between positive and negative emotions. Feelings of happiness and joy are encouraged; however, we are taught to deny the ‘negative’ emotions such as sadness, grief, and anger.
Intellectualization is the attempt to create a barrier between ourselves and our emotions, removing them from life. While this coping mechanism can be used short term to protect us during times of trial, denying our emotions over an extended period of time brings with it additional complications. It will leave us feeling smart, intelligent and wise, but the reality is far different.
Failing the ability to use our intelligence to control our emotional state, others will turn to other attempts to escape including drug use, alcohol, overeating, restricting food and compulsive sex. While each of these will provide us with a short-term reprieve, numbing out our emotions, they are only temporary.
Here are 4 reasons to avoid intellectualizing and embrace your emotions:
1. Numbing your emotions holds you back from living a full life.
It takes a lot of energy to constantly push back your emotions, keeping them hidden away. Rather than focusing on the good things around you in life, you spend all your time dealing with your emotions and miss out on the life around you. It’s a preoccupation, an obsession, and it can completely take over your life. Instead, remind yourself that in order to truly live and embrace the world you need to accept the emotions that will come with it.
2. You can’t selectively choose which emotions you numb.
While it would be nice to pick and choose which emotions we are numbing. The ability to turn off the bad and allow ourselves to relish in the good is a skill that many of us which we had, however, it isn’t possible. When you choose to numb your emotions, you numb all emotions including the good and the bad. Instead, embrace the full range of your feelings and remember that no feeling lasts forever. If you are going through a difficult time, happiness is on the horizon.
3. Don’t view your feelings as anything more than a form of therapy.
Your emotions are a natural part of the human condition. As a young child, you felt the highs and lows of the life you were living and weren’t even able to describe and understand these feelings yet. Reaching a point in your life where you can now explain and comprehend why you feel what you feel doesn’t negate the raw human emotion that you are feeling. Labelling your emotions as nothing more than therapy is a way of intellectualizing by making it about the logical side of ‘why’ you feel rather than the feeling itself. Try not to overthink it and just feel the emotion free of our labels, explanations, and justifications.
4. By trying to avoid your feelings, you end up suffering more.
The overall purpose of most people avoiding their emotions is ultimately to avoid suffering, however, by trying to fight them back and push them away you are actually setting yourself up for more suffering in the long term. When you don’t work through your feelings, allowing you to release them, they don’t just go away. Instead, the repressed emotions lie in wait for the time when they can all come rushing back to the surface again. Allow yourself to take a moment and sit with your emotions, feeling them and letting them go as it will allow you to move past them.