Q. Though I'm a very logical person, constantly pushing my emotions aside, I sometimes burst out in anger, surprising both my spouse and myself. Any thoughts on this issue?

A. It pays to get in touch with your emotions. Though emotions are often illogical, painful or frightening, they contain a lot of truth. Negative emotions can alert you to danger, inform you when it's time to change direction and thereby cultivate a longing for self-growth. Even when it hurts, a negative emotion can lead you to greater understanding. Welcome it. Be curious – take a look at it. Give yourself permission to say, "Oh, this hurts, let me find out what's going on here," instead of stifling it with "I shouldn't be feeling this way." In reality, the seed of pain becomes the seed for growth. When you discard the pain, you throw away the information it can give you. On the other hand, when you crack open the difficulty, you discover what it can teach you.

In the book of Proverbs, King Solomon advises: "He who is slow to anger is better than a strong man and a master over his emotions than a conqueror of a city" (Mishlei 16:32).

A strong man is satisfied with overpowering a city and killing its defenders. But a conqueror of a city derives no benefit from destroying its inhabitants. His more delicate task is to take control of the city while leaving its inhabitants alive.

According to Rabbi Yonah, the city is a metaphor for anger and its inhabitants symbolize one's other instinctual drives. Both the strong man and the conqueror overpower their anger. But the conqueror recognizes that other physical desires (the inhabitants of the city) are needed for survival. And so he keeps them alive, even though he subjects them to his rule.

The challenge is to experience the full spectrum of our emotions, to listen and evaluate our emotional life. As life unfolds, we can learn many lessons along the way. It takes courage and bravery to face up to whatever arises; it takes courage and bravery to surrender our will to the Divine. We have to form a bridge between our heart and our mind, between our feelings and our intellect so that we can understand with our brain what our heart is saying.

It takes courage to get in touch with our emotions, especially when they're negative. To some people, it may seem easier to escape feelings by cramming schedules and to-do lists until there's no time or room for feelings.

Simply disregarding feelings doesn't change them. Either they linger in the background and hurt us in subtle ways (such as affecting our logical thinking processes), or they backfire and emerge in very obvious ways (like angry outbursts). Left to ferment, they eventually bubble out of control. When you are confronted by an overload of emotions, it's more difficult to look for solutions in a clear and calm manner.

Anger is a feeling that is aroused within us when we are provoked. It is a signal to us. It may be alerting us to the fact that we're being hurt, that our needs are not being adequately met, or that we're not addressing something important in our lives. It is not the initial feeling of anger that is wrong, but the improper expression of anger. Here are some ways to deal with your emotions before they steam over:

  • Notice – Check inside to see what you feel. Observe your feelings with the objectivity of a news reporter: Ah, how interesting, I'm feeling angry. Embrace the feeling with wonder and curiosity.
  • Lower the volume – Reduce the strident voices of judgment, criticism and analysis, such as: I shouldn't be feeling this way. One shouldn't become so emotional.
  • Accept – Accept your feeling. Never give up on yourself for feeling the way you do. Acceptance invites improvement: If I'm okay than of course I can always do better.
  • Write down your feelings in a journal. Besides for its therapeutic effect, you will gain clarity after the dust settles.
  • Use I-messages. I-messages can help us communicate our feelings when we feel wronged without putting down, accusing, or attacking another person. A statement such as "I feel like I'm not being heard" makes for more effective communication than, "You don't know how to listen."