Doctor Neha: Hi, everybody and welcome. We have a returning guest, Jacob. Jacob, so glad that you had another question you’re contemplating and were willing to do it out loud so other people can learn. What are you thinking about?
Jacob: First, thank you for having me again. It’s always a pleasure. My question or concern is actually kind of more of a story. I’ve played tennis my whole life, pretty much since I could walk. I had been born with the racket in my hand. So I played as a kid for fun and then seriously and competitively through high school and then into college. Tennis became way more than winning and losing and hitting the ball and moving around. It became a place where I dealt with a lot of emotions and sort of became synonymous with life—just because I was around it so much. I’ve put so much stock of my own identity and value in it. So I kind of want to explore that a little bit.
Doctor Neha: So I think athletics and hobbies can grow in our life and meaning. You just said, “It’s where I expressed emotion.” What emotion did you express with tennis?
Jacob: A lot of frustration, anger, sadness.
Doctor Neha: Did you ever throw your racket or do that kind of stuff?
Jacob: More times than I’d like to admit.
Doctor Neha: So it was like a “legal” place to show anger and frustration when you miss a shot or whatever it is.
Doctor Neha: So I’d asked you then, where was it not safe to express yourself that way?
Jacob: I think in that question, I would say it was safe for me at home or school, but I didn’t feel safe expressing myself. I don’t think it was due to external things. I think it was, for some reason, I kind of developed the sense that it wasn’t okay to express myself.
Doctor Neha: What were you afraid of? Were you afraid of other people not liking you? Because you’re saying those environments were safe if I could have expressed my anger, but I just didn’t let it out and I’m not sure why. If you did, then what would have happened?
Jacob: I think people would be scared or wouldn’t like me or they would be put off by me expressing myself.
Doctor Neha: Well, what’s really important here is anger is not anger. Anger is a mask emotion. Underneath it is either fear or hurt or pain. People who get angry are actually trying to protect themselves. So at some point in your life there was an experience you had where you felt hurt or afraid and you couldn’t really express it. So tell me how that relates to tennis because it’s being taken out on the court? Did you ever have any pain around it? Or any fear?
Jacob: Well, one thing I’ve learned that’s really interesting is kind of the connections between emotions and the body and how emotions move. One of the biggest realizations is that emotions physically move through your body when you move it. And I moved a lot playing tennis and sports—movement-based activity.
Doctor Neha: Yeah.
Jacob: In that, maybe at one time I got mad and I let all the frustration, hurt, anger that had been built up and there was no punishment for it because it was on the court. So in my mind it was like this court equals a safe place to let out all my emotions that I didn’t feel were appropriate for day-to-day life.
Doctor Neha: Amazing. Because really you’re speaking about a couple things. You didn’t have to process them mentally. You didn’t have to have conflict with somebody else. You could miss a shot, throw a racket, and it could be directed at yourself. As you moved your body, got it out of you, cleared, cleaned it all up, and it was the safe space on so-many-feet by so-many-feet of a court that could absorb all of that emotion.
Doctor Neha: Well, Jacob, I think it’s pretty incredible. For all of you watching, think about and ask yourself, What emotions are okay to express and what emotions have you learned are not okay to express? And when you don’t know how to process an emotion or don’t think it’s okay to express it, where does it have an outlet? And if it doesn’t have an outlet, after a while it’s going to show up in your physical body to get your attention. Pretty soon you’ll find yourself anxious, worrying at night. You’ll find yourself snapping at somebody who you shouldn’t have snapped at, but they just happened to be in the wake of your unresolved emotions. So it can really damage relationships when you misplace where you feel something and discharge it on to somebody else.
Jacob, thank you so much for sharing your example. Tennis is such a benign thing, but, wow, what a sacred place to absorb your anger until you learn how to process it yourself. So now that you know how to do that, would you say that it’s changed your relationship with tennis?
Jacob: Oh, for sure. You know, I finally have been able to enjoy a tennis court— just tennis and the joy of moving my body and hitting the ball and competing and all the great things about it. Not feeling like I’m carrying around 50 or 100 pounds of emotional baggage every time. It’s nice to only be carrying the racket and not anything else.
Doctor Neha: Thank you, Jacob. Thanks for talking to us and sharing your experience on the court.
Jacob: Oh, of course. Thanks for having me.
Awareness Prescription for Identifying Where You Express Emotion
In your family, culture or environment:
What emotions are acceptable to express?
What emotions are not acceptable to express?
When you don’t feel comfortable or safe expressing an emotion, what do you do with that energy?
With whom or where do you feel safe expressing your emotions?