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What’s So Scary About Emotions?

Members of the Food and Feelings message board are doing some amazing work on emotions by reading my Food and Feelings Workbook and discussing it online.
Reading their posts, I’ve been thinking about what frightens them so about emotions. The main fears people have are of burdening others, getting stuck in their upset, “losing it” and being unable to function, and falling into a deep (or deeper) depression. These fears contain some truth, but are overblown.
In my 30 years doing therapy, there have been clients who have endured exceptional trauma who needed to be hospitalized, but were discharged better off than they were before they went in. There have been clients who took a painful, long time to work through old wounds, who felt stuck but were actually doing great work getting unstuck. I have seen clients who needed to focus on themselves for brief periods when they were in the throws of emotions but, they too, bounced back stronger and emotionally healthier. There have been clients who become more depressed for a while and needed increased frequency of therapy or of their anti-depressant. I have seen clients learn by reaching out who is really there for them and who isn’t.
The people who suffer most learning to do feelings work are those who fight it or try to go it alone. If you cannot afford therapy (many clinics have a sliding scale), talk to friends or family about your feelings or join a message board. If you don’t have folks to talk to on an intimate level when you are in distress and turn to food instead, something is wrong in the relationship department. Part of emotional healing is learning to trust that others will hear you out, validate your feelings, and help you bear them. This learning process is as important as whatever specific words are said to you. The reason that many kinds of therapy work is because the relationship is what heals.
Emotions need not be the scary enemy. Reframe them as learning tools. Make them your ally and you will see tremendous positive changes in your life, with food and everything else. You might be scared of intense feeling. That’s okay. Most people are. But if you want to become emotionally healthy, you simply have to do the work.