How Do I Express My Emotions?

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Reader’s Question

I have a problem expressing my feelings. I never let others know when I’m sad, even my best friends and parents. I’m a 19-year-old girl, and I’ve NEVER cried in front of anyone.

I’m never too excited or too sad. When my grandmother died, the first thing that came to my mind was what feeling should I have, should I cry, just have a sad face or what? I ended up smiling, although I was burning from the inside. Another example was when I was trying to pass an exam that’s very important for my future at the university. When my sister passed it, she cried from happiness but when I did, I was just smiling and everyone around me was so excited about it.

Expressing feelings is not something that’s usual in my family, although we care and love each other a lot! So I have grown up being comfortable with keeping my feelings to myself. I just recently realized that it’s not a normal thing to other people. Moreover, I always think that if I cry in front of someone, he’ll be annoyed and think I’m a weak crying baby. And if I’m in pain, then what’s the use of saying it to other people when they’ll never feel exactly how I feel? I always hold myself back in front of everyone. I’m a funny person actually, but when I’m alone I will suddenly start crying hard.

What can I do in order to feel better?

Psychologist’s Reply

Emotions are very complicated. Although we all have them, each person feels them in a different way. Some people are very passionate and feel things intensely, while others are more moderate in their feelings. This variation in emotional intensity is normal and nothing to worry about. Human beings also don’t always feel the same emotion at the same time. For example, one person passing an important exam could feel great happiness at the time they heard the results while another person could feel the same emotion a week later. Given the normal differences in human emotional responses, it’s difficult to measure what and how you should feel by making comparisons with other people.

It sounds like you’re really worried about how other people will react to your expression of emotions. Given that your family is reserved, this fear is understandable. However, it seems that holding in your emotional response is causing you to burn inside or experience sudden outbursts of sadness. This is because preventing a normal response causes it to become stronger. Feelings don’t go away. They will always come out; it’s just a matter of when and how. Consequently, it is very important that you stop holding back and just let yourself accept how you feel and express whatever emotion you’re having. This may take practice because it is not something you’re used to doing.

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As you already know, some people are not comfortable with the expression of emotion and, if you cry in front of them, they may get angry or upset. However, as long as you are expressing your feelings appropriately (e.g., you’re not sobbing your way through parties or laughing during somber occasions), their discomfort is their problem to handle. You cannot control other people’s thoughts, feelings or behaviors; you can only control your own and do what is healthy. Expressing your emotions is normal, and it helps people connect with you. Even if they cannot know exactly how you feel, just the experience of having emotions in common is enough to provide some comfort.

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