This is the eighth of a series of articles about self-care.

Emotional sabotage refers to thoughts, actions, and relationships that sabotage the inclusion and healthy expression of our full range of our emotions. If we have relationships where our true emotions are not welcome, if we don’t accept all our emotions, or if we try to stuff, drown, or escape our emotions with unhealthy habits, this article is for us.

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Emotions are part of being human.

They can range the gamut from bliss and ecstasy to boredom and suicide. In an article from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine titled, Emotions and Everyday Life, “people reported experiencing one, or several emotions, 90% of the time.” And, emotions are shown to be the driving factor when making decisions. According to an article in the Annual Review of Psychology, “many psychological scientists now assume that emotions are, for better or worse, the dominant driver of most … decisions in life.” The article goes on to say that, “decisions can … increase a negative emotion or decreas(e) a positive emotion. And with each new decisions and its results, new emotions arise. Simply put, emotions and decision-making, go hand in hand.”

Emotions impact physical, mental and relationship health.

Provisional clinical psychologist Victoria Tarratt said, “Suppressing your emotions, whether it’s anger, sadness, grief or frustration, can lead to stress … it can affect blood pressure, memory and self-esteem. Longer-term, there’s an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease.” And avoiding emotions can also “lead to problems with memory, aggression, anxiety and depression.” A study from the University of Texas found that by not acknowledging our emotions we’re actually making them stronger, and put ourself at risk for habitual, unhealthy behaviors and addictions.

For example …

We might be angry at our boss, not know how to pro-actively care for that anger in a healthy way, and then come home and shout angry words at our family. Or, we might be emotionally-sexually charged, not pro-actively care for that emotion, and be prone to potentially unhealthy sexual behaviors or overeating and drinking. In this way, we can see the relationship between what happens when we don’t pro-actively recognize and care for our emotional and physical needs. If we are too busy working and do not recognize that our body is very hungry, we might become famished and prone to stop at the fastest fast food place we can find, and eat any kind of food, even if it isn’t healthy for us. Likewise, if we don’t recognize that we feel the emotion of fear, and we don’t stop to introspect to find out what we feel and what we need to stabilize ourself in peace or take a nap, we might be prone to being emotionally over-reactive, controlling, needy and clingy in relationships—thereby driving others away.

Pro-active care is key to health and happiness.

When we are willing to be aware and recognize our physical and emotional states earlier, we can, for example, prepare healthy food and eat before we are famished. And, we can release our sexual tension in a healthy way before our emotions overpower us and we act in a way that compromises our integrity and our relationships.

Are you experiencing emotional sabotage?

Here are six signs to find out!

  1. Do you pretend that you feel better than you actually feel? For most of my life I did this, until I literally broke down. Currently I do not pretend, however, I am still honing my ability to wisely care for my emotions when I am around people who are neither capable nor interested in caring about my emotions. Currently, I limit what I say, and give myself the leeway to learn and change.
  2. Do you feel ashamed of your emotions? Before I understood that it was ok for me to experience and express the gamut of my emotions, and before I understood that I wasn’t being ungrateful or selfish when I did not feel sparkly and happy, I felt ashamed of my sad feelings. I felt like there was something wrong with me for not being overcome with gratitude every second.
  3. Do you lie about your emotions? Pretty self-explanatory, but when we lie about how we feel, we sabotage the possibility of accepting and loving our emotions and ourself fully. We also sabotage the chance of others accepting, loving and caring for us unconditionally.
  4. Are you unaware of how you feel? If when people ask you how you feel, you answer what you think, or what you did that day, chances are you are out of touch with your emotions. I did not grow up learning to tap in to my emotions or notice how I felt. I was trained to not feel my emotions. I numbed out my feelings with food, people pleasing, and work. Some people use drink, drugs, or other distractions. Any way we slice that, when we don’t know how we feel, our emotions will get the better of us and run our life, whether we know about them or not.
  5. Are you in relationships with people who are not interested in your emotions? For me, this looks like me saying I experienced hard emotions today, and someone launching into telling me about their accomplishments. They show no interest in my emotions, and when I humbly express my emotions, they are afraid of them, ignore them, don’t know what to do with them, change the subject, or tell me all the reasons it’s a beautiful day and I should be happy.
  6. Do you reward, punish or escape from emotions? For example, how were your emotions treated in childhood and do you treat your own emotions like that now? Growing up, when I was sad or angry, my mom would reward or distract me temporarily from my emotions with a food treat or a present. My dad taught me to escape my emotions through hard work and ignoring my emotions. And friends and other family members escaped and punished their emotions by partying, pitying themselves, or being depressed. All these methods are coping mechanisms for attempting to manage our emotions, but do not actually care for our emotions. Into adulthood, I continued to ineffectively attempt to manage my emotions by means of treats, overwork, and sometimes pity and punishment. I ultimately found these methods of reward, punishment, and escape from my emotions to be deeply dissatisfying. They left an aching, empty feeling that I was stuffing with addictions to food, work, and relationships. And it was that awful, aching feeling that drove me to research, learn, and apply new ways to care for my emotions, which continue to heal my heart and mind.

Emotions affect satisfaction.

Our emotions, and how we treat them, have an all-encompassing effect on how satisfied we feel about ourself and life. Most of us want our emotional state to feel good, but we don’t know how to provide ourself with consistent, pro-active care for our emotions.

What can we do?

Here are four things we can do at least twice a day and as often as possible, to begin to care for, and not sabotage, our emotions.

  1. Ask ourself, “How do I feel?” And, “Anything else?” Accept and include our emotions in our experience.
  2. Ask ourself, “What do I need?” And, “Is there a deeper need?” Accept and include the needs in our experience.
  3. Give ourself what we need, immediately. Accept that we are worthy to fulfill our needs.
  4. Be patient and compassionate. Caring for emotions is not a get-fixed-quick-scheme. It takes as long as it takes, and then, the emotion will shift and change.

What do we REALLY need?

Most of the time, what we most deeply need is love. Since different things inspire feelings of love within each of us, it’s important to learn what feels like love to us, and then give that to ourself.

In addition, we can limit or stop spending time with people who do not include or invite the emotional part of us to participate in the relationship with them.

Curiosity and acceptance validate emotions.

When we’re kindly-curious about our emotions, the inner learning and acceptance can be deeply validating and healing. Although the idea of living without emotions may seem easier, emotions are a fact of life. And we can learn to see our emotions as added zest, interest, flavor, and fragrance for our life. Because emotions are an overall incredible way to experience and love being human.

If we feel unworthy to know and care for our emotions …

Remember and repeat our three affirmations from the last seven weeks:

  • I do matter.
  • I am worth knowing.
  • I am important.

Rather than fighting, fleeing, stuffing, or drowning our emotions …

We can create a safe, inner-place to know, care for, and learn from them. By doing so, we neither look to others, nor lean on them, to care for us. This allows us to feel noticed, appreciated, respected and cared about, by ourself. And, by caring for own emotions, rather than looking for others to care for them, we can simply share life and love with others, rather than needing something from them.

Will You?

I encourage you, to be kindly-curious, feel and learn from your emotions. By doing so, you will always know that somebody cares. Let us know how applying today’s concepts works for you! We enjoy hearing from you 🙂

Let’s get together! Join us in Knoxville, Tennessee, any Sunday in April for the Will You Grow, Love and Adventure Brunch Series at Knoxville’s Luxury Venue—Ancient Lore Village! Check out the event video for all the delicious details and book your tickets for future fun with us in April!

Always with love,