As a “school student” I often heard “teachers” bandy about the phrase “the non-expression of negative emotions” as a behavior to work toward. What are negative emotions? The list is familiar to anyone with breathing lungs and a beating heart: guilt, resentment, anger, impatience, jealousy, hatred, self-pity, etc. You get the gist. We identify these feelings and work to “not express” them lest we send out coarse vibrations to the world and hamper the soul-making machinery going on inside us.
Taking this idea a step further, “school” also preaches that “negative emotions are not real.” I struggled with that, too, for I can waste a great deal of time stewing in the “not real.” Somehow the idea of the “non-expression” of “not real” emotions only made them more visceral, prominent and consuming. Taking it up another notch, we were also to work on “not expressing” both internally and externally, i.e., not through thought, posture, facial expression or conversation. Well, in practice, rather than a doorway to freedom, it became a recipe for insanity.
“Non-expression” coupled with “self-observations” started imprisoning me behind the navel-gazing bars of neurosis, anxiety and self-judgment. So my burning question to teachers was, “What does it mean to ‘non-express’ and how does an aspiring soul do it without becoming consumed by the presiding emotion?” Many “students” broached this question. “Teachers” responded that “non-expression” is NOT suppression; yet they never could define what it is and/or how to do it. So what did many of us “students” do? Suppress! It doesn’t take a trained professional to know what that does to a psyche.
Before my “school” days, I had stumbled into therapy. Through that I began to see “emotions” as different energies — some light and nourishing, some heavy and consuming. I’d learned that these energies could be transformed when not desperately shoved into some psychic dark corner. I’d discovered that the heavier and more consuming feelings (i.e. the ones we want to deny) were usually vying for attention because they had messages. I learned to listen; I learned that my need for expression was healthy, and ultimately expression is what transforms “negative emotions”; expression, I learned, quiets the inner cacophony that blocks you from hearing the message beneath the feeling. When you can hear them, the messengers often inspire action. (Little wonder “school” wouldn’t want its minions to be inspired into action.)
While in my school stupor, despite this powerful prior knowledge, I fell into judging myself for needing to express “negative emotions”. I stopped recognizing my crucial messengers and started feeling crazy and stuck. The crazier I felt, the less I trusted myself, the more I steeped in self-judgment (i.e. a “negative emotion”) and the more I turned to “teachers” for guidance. I desperately wanted to understand this idea of “non-expression”, and yet I never fell completely asleep to one messenger. This voice consistently asked, “At what point can I trust myself again? ‘Teachers’ can’t follow me around all day making every little decision.” And the “negative emotion” of resentment towards “school” for this teaching started permeating those dark corners and shedding light on a justified anger. Anger announced, “This institution is hijacking your life, and you are letting it happen.”
Now that I’ve been out of the cult, I see that this “non-expression of negative emotions” idea, however real in its true form, is used by this cult as a powerful tool of manipulation. You begin to doubt your perceptions, therefore yourself. You fear that your “negative emotions” are sending “coarse vibrations” out into the world and attracting unwanted events and misfortune. This fear feeds on itself and induces an emotional paralysis and does indeed attract unwanted events into your life — events that are a result of your growing insecurity. Your perceived need for school grows. A perfect circular prison.
“Teachers” also warned us to look out for “suspicious I’s” under the guise of helping us see that suspicion is not helpful to us – it keeps us from opening our hearts and lives to new experiences. But perhaps these messengers, Suspicion and Anger, are rising up because there is something to be suspicious of and angry about.
If you realize all this, you can see how “school” needs to paint the given “negative emotion” as shameful. If we honored Anger and Suspicion, no one would stay in school, pay the tuition, put on parties, prepare refreshments, repair and upgrade teacher-owned houses in New Hampshire, spend precious free time recruiting new students, etc. It would all cease to exist, as would the lifestyles of those at the top.
Anger and Suspicion can be loyal guardians that say “no” to vultures and parasites, when embraced and channeled rightly. They can protect your energy and sanity and life. Ironically, my “suspicious I’s” often began rattling around loudly when hearing the term “the non-expression of negative emotions.” All I can say is that when I finally listened to these messengers, they saved my sorry ass.