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Monsters in the Basement

Scary Monsters? Picture by Mathew Ragan on Flickr

Emotions, and the consequences of openly sharing them, can be difficult to face sometimes. In social situations we fear what our emotions will do to others, or what people might think of us if we told them how we really feel. There can also be a fear of contagion, “If I tell people I’m depressed, then I’ll make them feel down too.”

Strong emotions can seem particularly uncontrollable or threatening, especially if we have no one around us who we’re able to talk to, or ways that feel safe to express them.

It can seem easier to keep quiet, distract or numb ourselves rather than to allow however we’re feeling to have its true voice – and there are lots of potential distractions around these days; whether, drink, drugs, or YouTube! I’m sure you could come up with a list of your own personal distraction methods.

Emotions or difficult thoughts can feel like scary monsters from which we need to hide, either to protect ourselves, or other people. We build up our defences, keeping them locked away in the basement, fearing the consequences of letting them out.

But if you’ve watched any horror films, you’ll probably recognise that once we finally see the monster that’s been skulking, half hidden in the basement for most of the film, the reality is that it’s just an actor in a rubber suit, or more often these days, a computer generated figment of an artists imagination. Once seen, its power to scare is hugely diminished. The unknown is almost always scarier than the known, that’s why canny film directors keep their monsters in the shadows as long as they can.

And the same goes for emotions. In my experience, once they’ve been shared or expressed, those dangerous feelings are not as destructive as we thought, and not as bad as the side effects of keeping them hidden. The benefits of really listening to what our emotions are trying to tell us, and then acting on that, far outweigh any negative side effects.

Once shared, or acted upon, the overriding feeling afterwards is often a sense of relief, a weight off our shoulders. Yes, we might then have to deal with the consequences if we’ve had to say something difficult to someone else, but those consequences might be nowhere near as scary as our overactive imaginations like to assume, and often they’re ultimately positive.

But no one likes to go down into a dark basement on their own. Having a trusted friend, or counsellor to walk alongside you as you make the tentative first steps to admitting how you feel can make a big difference. More solitary explorations like meditation are also helpful. Taking the time to listen to ourselves means we can start to recognise emotions for what they really are – signals and messages that tell us whether we’re on the right track, or if something needs to change.

Once you shine a light down into the darkness and see what’s really there, then you may well find that it’s not a dangerous werewolf howling in the basement, but your loyal guard dog desperate to tell you something important.

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