I’ve been thinking a lot about the way in which human beings police each other’s emotions and emotional responses. Often, the emotional pain others are experiencing makes us deeply uncomfortable. As a result, we may minimize, gloss over, or even criticize another person for how they feel. Yesterday, I came across a fascinating pre-print article on this subject.
Cosimano and Goodwin (2020) considers how people try to control, influence, or change the way another person regulates their emotions based on how valid they think those emotions are. In other words, if we think someone is justified for feeling upset about something, we are less likely to criticize them for the way in which they are experiencing their emotions about it. However, if we think that they are more upset than the situation warrants, we are more likely to criticize them. This holds true even when we are aware that criticizing the other person may cause them additional pain.
As I think about my own experiences, those times when another person tried to shame me for my feelings or rationalize away the reason for my hurt and upset were painful. As human beings we seem to spend an awfully large amount of time judging whether other people’s emotions are legitimate.
This paper was explicitly concerned with how individuals viewed the emotional responses of others and how they were either critical of them or not. I’m curious about how this might apply to the individuals themselves. Put differently, I wonder how we rate the legitimacy of our own feelings and how that translates into how we perceive ourselves as emotionally strong or weak.
For me, I know that it is a constant struggle to accept my emotions as valid. Instead, I want to apply a quality standard to my feelings. I’m learning to let myself feel what I feel without judgment.