Intellectualizing Emotions

Intellectualization is a defense mechanism in which we use our mind to try to keep ourselves from having to experience uncomfortable emotions. It's a kind of emotional suppression where we try to use the mind to analyze an emotion, understand why we're having the emotion, and then try to think of a way in which we don't have to experience the emotion anymore.

However, when we focus on what we don't want, we actually feed what we don't want with more energy and actually end up creating more of what we don't want. It creates more resistance within ourselves.

So as you can see, intellectualization does not work. If anything, it does the opposite because it only serves to ultimately strengthen the uncomfortable emotions we are looking to avoid in the first place.

Now, the mind itself is not the problem. The mind is a powerful and necessary tool that helps us to solve problems and navigate daily life. It only becomes a problem when we use logic and intellect as a way to try to stop or suppress certain feelings from arising.

When was the last time you tried to "convince" yourself that you should't feel a certain way - and even told yourself a million good reasons why? Did it work? Of course not.

As a defense mechanism, we often use intellect to "explain away" or reject difficult emotions, such as anger, sadness or grief. In life, you've probably noticed that talking about and analyzing emotional pain can only get you so far in "solving" the problem.

Solving emotional pain does not happen the same way as, for example, solving a problem you might have with your cellphone. If your cellphone stopped working, you may systematically try to troubleshoot why it isn't working. Maybe you determine it's due to the battery being completely drained. Charge the battery - and the problem is solved.

But "fixing" emotional pain doesn't happen in the same way. That's why intellectualization doesn't work. Emotions, like thoughts, are just energy. And when we try to suppress them, it creates a block within us. The only way to unblock this stuck energy is to allow the emotions to express themselves.

Emotions are essentially just asking for permission to be there. All emotions are valid. And by denying them, we are essentially telling ourselves that we don't have permission to be human. So any strategy that is meant to get rid of them will not work. Using logic and intellect to "fix" uncomfortable emotions merely ends up reinforcing them. And a vicious cycle ensues.

So, when uncomfortable emotions arise, we must train ourselves to stay with them. We must allow these emotions to fully express themselves in the present moment without trying to deny them or have them trigger some kind of defense or coping mechanism. It is this acceptance that ultimately allows us to transcend the emotional pain and be free of it.

And when I talk about letting them express themselves, I don't mean going out and yelling at or hitting random people on the street :) I'm talking about sitting with the uncomfortable emotion. Really letting yourself feel it fully so that it can dissipate and pass through you.

This is exactly where mindfulness comes into play. Mindfulness is about observing your emotions without attachment or judgment. While intellectualization tries to think of reasons why they shouldn't exist.

Staying present in the moment takes practice. But the benefit is that we can become aware of our full range of emotions. We can learn that we don't have to suppress parts of ourselves and be afraid of our authentic selves. We can develop the emotional intelligence to know whether our emotions are serving us to create the kind of life experiences we desire. In the end, this offers us the freedom of conscious choice.