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How to express your emotions in spite of toxic family

express your emotions
Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash

If you grew up in a dysfunctional home, learning to express your emotions may be challenging. If you encountered emotional neglect and abuse, you had to suppress your feelings to survive.

Our emotions tell us what we need. If, as children, we discovered no one cared about our needs, emotions could feel dangerous.

Instead of creating intimacy, sharing your feelings might have pushed your parents away. If you received no support around managing your emotions, it makes sense you would do your best not to have them.

In such a toxic environment, emotions feel burdensome. That’s why some people numb out instead. It’s better than the pain of feeling things no one will help you process or understand.

In addition, emotions can be confusing to a child suffering under neglect and abuse. You might feel shame for feeling certain ways. That’s because you got the message that those feelings were unwanted or even made you “crazy”.

Often, the scapegoat in the family is made to feel mentally unstable for having honest human emotions. Worse yet, the family provokes you into those feeling states through their neglect and abuse.

Often, the scapegoat in the family is made to feel mentally unstable for having honest human emotions. Click To Tweet

Then they gaslight you by turning the tables and saying the problem is your feelings, not the abuse. And, this can make you question your sanity and whether you are the problem after all.

Learning to express your emotions

I’m here to tell you expressing emotions is essential to mental health and well-being. We are human and can only suppress our feelings for so long before they come out. If you’ve lashed out at inopportune times, you’ve experienced this need.

After gaslighting and emotional neglect, learning to express your emotions in healthy ways takes some work. Here are three tools that have worked for me.

Mindfulness

Most people think of meditation when they hear the word ‘mindfulness’. The term actually refers to being present. It means paying attention to the present moment with acceptance and without judgment.

Instead of clearing your mind of thoughts, you observe them as they go by. Rather than judging or running from them, you accept them as they are.

I started by setting a timer for 10 minutes, but you can go as long as you want. Research shows that shorter sessions more often are more effective than less frequent longer sessions.

Get curious with your feelings

express your emotions

If you grew up with emotional neglect like I did, it’s natural to push your feelings away. As a result, we may have no idea what we’re feeling. It’s a general sense of malaise, instead.

What if instead of pushing them away, you got curious about your feelings? Instead of viewing them as obstacles or burdens, consider what they have to tell you.

Anger, for instance, is an excellent catalyst for needed action and change. Sadness is a time to go within and take care of yourself. Start asking yourself what you’re feeling and see how empowering a simple step like that can be.

Express your emotions to others

It can feel difficult to embrace the vulnerability of sharing your feeling with others. Since childhood, you’ve had to suppress your emotions to survive.

As children, we depended on our parents to care for us. Their acceptance felt like life or death because of the threat of their abandonment.

So we did our best to please them, including suppressing our needs. Primary among these needs was the emotional support we knew we would never get.

When expressing emotions felt dangerous and isolating, it’s hard to convince yourself that it’s safe to do so. But you’re an adult now and no longer dependent on your caregivers. So, it is safer to open up, even if we experience rejection as a result.

The intimacy you crave will only come when you have the courage to open up and share how you feel. Click To Tweet

The intimacy you likely crave will only come when you have the courage to open up and share how you feel. Emotions tell us what we need, so when you suppress them, you deprive others of helping you or getting to know you better.

Relationships are give and take and healthy people don’t want a friend who only listens. They want someone who will share their inner life and that’s how relationships grow.

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