I remember an emotion chart with facial expressions given to me for working with children. It can be difficult for a child to find words to express what we can so glibly call “feelings.” Turns out, it can be difficult for people of any age to describe emotions that cause physical sensations in the body and hijack the mind with states of fog, panic, and hopelessness.
The Pixar film “Inside Out” provides a new way to describe feelings with color and is meaningful to both children and adults. Today while I was watching “Home” on Netflix with a four-year-old grandchild, we came to understand the feeling states of a creature known as “Boov” by the colors he turned—red when angry, indigo when sad, pink when happy, and purple when neutral. Boov was trying to understand a little human friend and at one point asked her if she was sad/mad.
Sad/mad is actually an apt descriptor for many clients who seek treatment for anger management only to discover that under the anger is the sorrow that is being expressed as anger. Some clients hope to feel anything instead of the numbness that gets in the way of self understanding and communicating with others.
Emotional intelligence and respect for the legitimacy of our feelings helps us to identify those areas of our lives that we try to intellectualize and conceptualize rather than acknowledge. When I see tears, or feel them in myself, I know that another part of an iceberg of emotion is “melting”– being felt, and when allowed into consciousness, can be learned from and resolved. Tears can be joyful as well as sad and signal that we are experiencing being totally human. In the movie, Boov shed a single tear as he made his first emotional connection.
Not everyone emotes in a single style. Those who have no tears may be misjudged as not feeling. Therapy can help us find our own way of emotional expression when we feel safe enough to let down our guard. This is holy ground.