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Emotional honesty is not the same as being run by your emotions.

In his book Permission to Feel, Marc Brackett, PhD, founding director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, notes that many people believe that “‘permission to feel’ means license to let it all hang out, to whine, yell, act on every emotional impulse, and behave as though we have no control over what we feel.”

Yet healthy emotional expression relies on regulation — feeling emotions without allowing them to take us over.

It also means we assume responsibility for our emotions rather than blasting them at others. Attacking other people or dumping feelings on them in the name of emotional honesty is harmful.

Responsibly expressing our feelings is not the same as stifling them, Brackett emphasizes. Rather, it’s choosing “the right expression with the right audience, in the right place, and at the right time.” He suggests asking yourself these questions to determine how best to express your feelings in the moment:

  1. Where am I? Am I at home, where it’s safe to be vulnerable? At work, where I have professional boundaries to consider? At a party? At a funeral?
  2. Who am I with? Friends? Loved ones? Colleagues? Acquaintances? Strangers?
  3. What’s my goal in this situation? To get support? To express a grievance? To offer an honest reaction?
  4. With this knowledge, what’s the most helpful way to show my emotions? Specifically, how much of this feeling do I want to share, and how much do I want to withhold?

This was excerpted from “6 Difficult Emotions and How to Deal With Them” which was published in Experience Life magazine.

Jessie
Jessie Sholl

Jessie Sholl is an Experience Life contributing editor.

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