We live in a culture that is all about stuffing our emotions. We deny them or plow through them as if they were something to be beaten back with a stick. Because we don't know how to deal with strong emotions comfortably, we don't like it when our or other people's emotions emerge and muck up a perfectly good personal interaction.
I often see people trying to hold in their emotions and then jam them down as soon as they begin to peek through. They try to head them off at the pass or cast them off like a hot potato. They are afraid to acknowledge the mere existence of these feelings, let alone venture to experience them fully. Sometimes the scariest prospect would be to let these emotions flow. Some people have been damning them up for so long they are scared that if they open the flood gates they might be drowned in a rushing current of anger, sadness, shame or despair. Or, these dreaded emotions may take over their lives like an unwanted alien house guest - they may never leave and destroy the tranquility and stability of their home in the process.
The truth is our emotions are an asset and when allowed to fully express themselves they don't like to overstay their welcome. It is safe and beneficial to fully feel and express the richness of your emotional life. The emotional world is deep and valuable. The scary part, the discomfort, comes from a lack of skills. We were born "knowing" how to experience emotions; but for most of us, that natural agility has been driven out, and we need to relearn how to positively embrace, respect and ride through our emotional experience.
The first piece, as always, is awareness - know thy self. Notice what you do when emotions rise. Notice your reactions and coping techniques. I tend to shut down. My reaction to uncomfortable emotion is like a security breach at a secret hideout. My internal alarms start to sound, my walls come up and my window shutters come down. Troops are sent out to protect the entrance. My daughter recently commented on a shift she'd noticed in my son's response to "bad" feelings. He used to roll into what we'd lovingly refer to as, "his ball of shame." He was shut down, but owning the experience. Lately, he's been trying on a new maneuver. This new, and possibly not improved, approach is geared toward distancing himself completely from the emotional experience at play. We call this the "who, me?" angle. This tactic is aimed at shifting blame and completely denying responsibility for, and/or awareness of, any daunting emotion on the scene.
So, begin to pay attention to the tactics you use. What techniques have you adopted to deal with uncomfortable emotions? Learn how you respond when lively emotions walk into the room; and then settle back, invite them in, offer them a warm beverage and have a chat.