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Permission to feel

“Shhh don’t cry.” Soothing words, often uttered with the very best of intentions. Spoken softly into a shoulder. Gentle, kind.

And yet, what is the purpose of these words? “Shhh don’t cry.” Turning down the volume on grief and anguish so that it is more manageable, less overbearing. More malleable, less garish. More civilised, less conspicuous. So that as onlookers we feel less helpless in the face of another’s abyss.

In his book Permission to Feel, research psychologist and Founding Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence Marc Brackett shines a light on our tendency to treat emotions as pariahs to be avoided, and obstacles to be overcome.

“We deny ourselves and one another the permission to feel. We suck it up, squash it down, act out. We avoid the difficult conversation with a colleague. We explode at a loved one and we helplessly go through a bag of cookies and have no idea why. When we deny ourselves permission to feel a long list of outcomes ensues.”

When we deny our emotions and pit ourselves against them, emotions become the enemy. The baddy. We run from them and strategise ways to outsmart them. Emotions are powerful and yet we harness none of their power. We fuel their power with the energy and time we spend attempting to escape them.

What if we stopped running from our feelings? What if we stopped trying to fight them and shush them and push them down?

Perhaps if we noticed how we feel and allowed our emotions space. Anger, fear, sadness, joy. Perhaps if we let them be, without becoming them. Perhaps then we could enjoy their colour, be curious about their depth, and appreciate what they teach us about ourselves, our lives, and the world.

Brackett, M. (2019). Permission to feel. Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Help Our Kids, Ourselves, and Our Society Thrive. Celadon Books