Acknowledging Emotions

By Kristin Allaben

My grandmother recently passed away. I was, perhaps ironically, already surrounded by family when the news reached us. We gave each other hugs, asked if everyone was ok as we started to process the news, shared memories of our Nonna and shared smiles and laughs through the tears. Everything you’d expect when the news of someone’s passing hits you.

But as I watched my big, loving family give hugs and express concern for each other, it made me realize that I don’t think there’s ever been a time when I’ve experienced the passing of someone I cared about where I knew exactly what I was supposed to do. Are you supposed to be sympathetic? Empathetic? Block out the pain? Embrace it and show every emotion? Is it ok to nervously laugh when someone asks if you’re ok? Is it ok to blink back tears instead of letting them fall freely?

Emotions are big things and, in my opinion, should be acknowledged. Without the acknowledgement, you can’t understand why you’re feeling that specific emotion.  

This self-awareness launched a little social experiment: I started watching how people acknowledge their emotions.

A toddler is a perfect example of just how powerful acknowledging emotions can be. I watched – with intention – my almost two year old closely for an entire day. Seeing him, and I mean really seeing him, experience emotions is one of the most intriguing things I’ve ever seen. When he’s happy, he smiles. When he’s sad, he cries. When he’s having fun, he’s laughing a contagious belly laugh. When he’s tired, he yawns. He doesn’t hide any emotion. You know exactly what he’s thinking and feeling. Nothing is unknown. It is what it is. He is fully present. He doesn’t check over his shoulder to see what others are thinking. He doesn’t have any judgement about what he is feeling – he fully engages with what is going on.

At what point did it become a rule that adults can’t acknowledge and share their emotions? Societal norms everywhere point to how you need to put on a brave face, have a stiff upper lip. Even pop culture reiterates these expectations with songs like “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and the ever popular phrase, “man up!” (ignore the gender bias there for a moment; that’s a discussion for another time).

Imagine how different your day could be if you stopped, noticed and acknowledged, truthfully and without judgement, how you’re feeling in any given moment. By experiencing and seeing what is, you could curb the hangry before it impacts an important afternoon meeting, or you could prevent an angry outburst at a bad driver because you’re tired or running late, or you could be more in the moment with your toddler when they start to process a new emotion.

This self-awareness gives you power to be self-managed, to choose how you want to fully experience this moment. Just imagine how different your day could be if you take the time to properly acknowledge your emotions and allow yourself to feel them, if only for a moment, to help you understand why you’re feeling them.

So, laugh when you find something funny. Smile when you’re happy. Cry when you’re sad. Allow yourself to acknowledge your emotions to make each moment as full as it can be. And by doing so, you allow yourself to more fully experience life in its moments.

Important Questions from a Coach:

  1. When was the last time you allowed yourself to truly acknowledge and experience an emotion you felt?
  2. What holds you back from experiencing each of your emotions?
  3. What is something you can start doing today to better tune in to what you are actually feeling and then to allow yourself to experience your feelings?


Consider reading Staying Calm and Wise in a Wild Word: Your Reality Check

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