Don’t resist, don’t react or distract. Learn to feel your emotions.
Why do we want to feel our emotions? Yesterday’s blog post addressed how most of us resist our emotions, react to them, or distract ourselves from them. Today I am going to explore how we can learn to feel our emotions, how we can allow them to be there.
But first let me remind you why we want to do that. We typically avoid or distract ourselves feeling negative emotions because we don’t like how they feel. The problem is when we do this, we are giving more power to the negative emotion and it tends to grow out of proportion. Also, when we avoid negative emotions, we often do things that are not in our best interest like eat biscuits and crisp, drink, shop or gamble. We partake in these pleasure-seeking behaviours to avoid feeling the negative emotion, which may work for a while but then typically, if the avoiding behaviour has a net negative benefit, we end up feeling worse than we did to start with. Also, often when we react to an emotion, for example we maybe behave in a non constructive way when we are arguing with our husbands, we invariably feel worse not better.
So how do we learn to feel our emotions and allow them to be there?
The first skill is learning to ‘hold space’ without judgment for ourselves. If I’m coaching a client, I ‘hold the space’ for them. What that means is that they can come to me and tell me anything. There will be no judgment. I will not judge them. My opinion is not relevant. As human beings, our initial reaction is always to judge something, or have an opinion about it. Holding space is not something that comes naturally to us, especially when it is about ourselves.
If I have a client come to me and I think she’s amazing and I love her and I think she’s doing a great job, that’s not relevant to my coaching session. If I think she’s being a victim or having a hard time or whatever, that’s not relevant. That’s not going to help me coach. My opinion of her is not going to help me coach whether it’s positive or negative. The same is true for us when we’re having emotions. If we start judging our emotions, we will not allow ourselves to feel them. We will distract or react or resist them. For example, if I’m feeling insecure, that may be an emotion that I don’t want to be having. I may resist it, pretend like I’m not having it, distract myself from it, or act it out.
First and foremost, you need to learn to hold space for any emotion. The spectrum of emotions that you will experience as a human being are normal and natural and part of what it means to be alive. When you can hold the space for any emotion to appear, to be present inside of you, then without judgment then you will more likely be able to feel it and experience it in your body.
Emotions truly are our guidance systems. Our emotions are the reason we do and don’t do anything. We anticipate a positive emotion, or we anticipate a negative emotion. That is what determines what we will do or what we won’t do. We feel a certain emotion and that determines what action we’re taking; how much energy is behind something.
The first step is to hold the space. Be willing to hold the space for any emotion without judgment.
The second thing is to allow it to be there. The way that you do that is you open yourself up to it, you breathe, and you just are willing to be. You look at that multiple choice and you say, “I can resist this, I can react to it, or I can distract from it, but what I’m going to do is just feel it. I’m going to allow it. I’m going to stay present with it. I’m going to acknowledge it without judgment.” Once you do that and that takes a split second of decision, a split second of decision, and you can notice yourself as you’re reacting and bring yourself back. You can notice as you’re distracting and bring yourself back. You can notice as you are resisting and then release the resistance and allow the feeling to be there.
Next, describe it in detail. Describe the experience of the emotion as if you were explaining it to a Martian. This is an important piece. A lot of people kind of want to go into that meditative state to be present with that emotion. That’s powerful. Breathing it in, relaxing your body, feeling the emotion is important.
Once you start to describe it, then what you notice is that you are not it. This is important because some of us fear the intensity of our emotions. We fear they may take us over, often because as children we didn’t know how to process them. We were so overwhelmed with emotion, we didn’t literally know what to do with ourselves. As adults, we can truly feel any emotion.
Once we start describing it what happens is, we’re able to separate ourselves out as the compassionate observer. We’re experiencing the emotion, but at the same time, we’re also describing ourselves experiencing the emotion.
Until you’ve had that experience of describing an emotion as you’re experiencing it, you may not know what I mean. The way that I like to teach my clients to do this is to describe it as if you’re describing it to a Martian.
Now, I want you to imagine this little Martian that comes from outer space that doesn’t feel emotion, doesn’t know what emotion is. When you describe an emotion to someone who doesn’t know what an emotion is, you must describe it from like where you’re experiencing it in your body and what exactly it feels like.
If you’re describing anxiety to a Martian and you’re trying to have them know what it feels like in the body, you must be very clear in the specific locations of the body and what exactly is happening. A lot of times, when I have my students do this, they want to start describing what they’re thinking. When you’re describing and feeling an emotion, you’re not describing what you’re thinking. You’re not describing why you’re feeling what you’re feeling. You’re only simply describing what’s going on in your body. When I describe anxiety, it’s a dryness in my throat and a heavy feeling in the pit of m my stomach.
Then, you want to name the emotion. What I did is I went to Wikipedia and found list of emotions. The more specific you can get instead of just saying, “I feel down,” if you say, “I feel discouraged. I feel disappointed. I feel frustrated.” Being able to name the emotion that you’re experiencing is very powerful.
The other way that I like to describe it is you’re willing to carry it with you. I like to think of it as carrying around this slightly heavy bag with me. It’s not a back pack attached to my back but a heavy handbag on my shoulder. This is a useful thing to do instead of pushing it away or reacting to it. We allow it to be there by being willing to carry it with us as long as we need to. The other way of thinking about it is to coexist with it instead of trying to get rid of it.
A lot of my students will say to me, “Okay. I’m willing to experience it but then how do I get rid of it?” Many, many times, when you allow an emotion to be there and you allow yourself to be present with it, it will dissipate within a matter of minutes. It’s just a vibration that flows through you and then it’s gone. I have had times in other experiences where it doesn’t go away, where there’s a heaviness that stays with me. When I try and fight, resist, distract, or react from those emotions, it always makes them worse and makes them fester and makes them stay longer. When I allow them and I am willing to coexist for them, they may stick around for a while, but it’s okay because I’m allowing them to be there and they usually go in waves. If I allow them to be there, they come in and out of my vibration and then eventually dissipate much more quickly than if I didn’t. I would say your willingness to be present with emotion will require you to be uncomfortable. Negative emotion is uncomfortable.
Your willingness to be uncomfortable, your willingness to be present with your discomfort, with your emotion, is important in helping you achieve your goals.
If you are working on losing weight you need to be willing how to learn to sit with the feeling of having the urge to eat. You need to allow the disappointment and judgement of eating something that you wish you hadn’t. When you practice allowing and feeling urges, disappointment and judgement they lose their power over you and become much less intense.
The same is true for feelings of self-doubt or fear of failing in pursuing goals you have. Or feelings of frustration, and judgement you may have when working on improving a relationship.
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