The Color Wheel of our Emotions

“Oh, you were there last night? I didn’t even see you!”

Oh, how many times have I heard some variation of this in my life. Whether it’s a party, a meeting, a class—I seem to blend into the walls when I want to. Or even when I don’t want to. In crowds, I often get stepped on, sat on, or pushed out of the way. It is hard for me to hold my space. Even harder for me to demand it back.

I know that with my seeming power of invisibility, I could easily vanish into the folds of society and become a quiet, obedient, never-hurt-anyone kind of person. Some days, when I’m tired and overwhelmed, this is what I wish for. I know how to suppress, how to silence, how to retreat.

But what I’ve learned to do and continue to practice is how to express, vocalize, and stand up and be seen. To do so, I had to first overcome my cultural and familial conditioning.

In our society, we are taught from childhood that emotions are something we must get under control. Bury them. Cover them. Stuff them.

We are taught that emotions are distracting and immature.

We are taught that being “emotional” disqualifies us for certain responsibilities or jobs.

We are taught that explanations, testimony, actions, or arguments made or motivated by emotion lack credibility. That they lack reason. That they are illogical. Even that they are dangerous.

As children, we learn through carrot-and-stick approaches that emotional “outbursts” are a sign of weak character; that there is a “time and place” for emotions to be expressed (and this is rarely in public).

There are, of course, certain times and situations in which we must keep our sh*t together. But emotions are not in themselves a problem. They are simply part of what makes us human.

Just like an artist focusing only on cool blues and greens in their work while refusing to touch the warm reds and oranges, overindulging or denying ourselves any of the emotional color wheel does not make us stronger people. Instead, over time, it makes us less human, less compassionate, and less relatable. Or, in my case, it makes us disappear into the folds of society—unable to enact change, create, and embrace this journey called life.

Society does allow certain expressions of our emotions— often connected with our sex. I call these our go-to emotions.

Boys and men are allowed the emotion of anger and its close relatives of frustration, annoyance, irritation, etc. With this comes a greater allowance for expressing a short temper, “lashing out”, playground fights, and other such boys-will-be-boys acts.

Girls and women are allowed the emotions of sadness and its relatives of disappointment, victimhood, sorrow, etc, along with the expressions of crying, self-sympathy, and expressions of dependency.

When boys express anger, they earn respect among their peers, even if they get deemed a bully. This is the carrot.

When girls express sadness, they too receive a carrot—attention and sympathy.

As far as the stick is concerned, when girls express an emotion other than sadness (particularly anger), they are reprimanded quickly and sharply. They are told there are better ways to handle their emotions. They learn that that means suppression.

When boys express an emotion other than anger (particularly sadness) their peers mock them. They learn to “toughen up” and get a “thicker skin.”

I’m making generalizations, of course, because family culture, personality type, and other things play roles as well.

But bottom line, most of us grow up to believe that there are “safe” emotions and “unsafe” emotions. Over time and without reflection, our safe emotions become our go-to, knee-jerk emotions. Then, no matter what life experience we have — an injury, a loss, a fright — we relate to it and respond to it from our go-to emotion.

For example, if anger is our go-to emotion, we rage when we get hurt. We shout when we get fired. We shake our fist at the Universe at the loss of a loved one. We respond through violent words and/or actions whenever boundaries are crossed. We never cry. We never feel sorrow or grieve. We never allow room for any other response.

Over time, we become one-dimensional, flat creatures. We miss out on the entire color wheel of emotions, and, like a broken record, get stuck repeating one response all the time.

Unsafe emotions, having become unacceptable to us, may eventually become inaccessible. We all know people who “can’t cry” or “never get angry.” These are not expressions of emotionally healthy human beings but of humans who have suppressed so much for so long, they’ve grown numb.

We were given a large array of human emotions for a reason, and that is to experience them and learn from them.

Emotions are not an enemy we should fight off, nor should we become overly dependent on them.

Emotions should be treated as messengers, or as guests as in Rumi’s poem, which I share below. Upon its arrival, each ought to be treated with respect and reverence but without fear or favor. They have come with a message, and that message has the power to take us deeper into ourselves if only we take the time to listen.

The more we bring the light of awareness into ourselves, the less we are driven by habit, and the more we can live an awake and aware life. This leads to greater health in our minds, bodies, and souls.

There is no such thing as “safe” and “unsafe” emotions.

There are only human emotions.

And if we learn how to live in relationship with them, they can color our lives with greater depth, feeling, and wisdom.

Contrary to everything we were taught about them growing up, emotions do have a purpose. They have their own form of logic. And they’re only dangerous if we don’t understand them.

Emotions belong to all of us and are for all of us — regardless of our gender, upbringing, or culture. Because we are all human beings, and it is at the level of emotion that we relate to one another, it is through emotion that we will feel the belonging, companionship, and unity we all crave.

As a wholeness advocate, my work is to ensure that no aspect of human life is left in the shadows of our unconsciousness. By definition, this makes me also an “emotion advocate,” as emotions are a part of our humanity.

Emotions are messengers to be welcomed and understood. They are guests in the house of the human body. They only cause harm when we manipulate them, kidnap them, ignore them, or in any other way disrespect their arrival and their message.

None of us should be invisible. We should all be living in color.

Allow me to end with this poem by Rumi, entitled, The Guest House:

The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.

meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

— Jellaludin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks

Keri Mangis

Award-Winning Author & Wholeness Advocate

Check out my interview with Illumination!


Author: Embodying Soul: A Return to Wholeness — A Memoir of New Beginnings, winner of the 2020 IPA for Body, Mind and Spirit

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