Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Facing Your Feelings: How To Overcome The Painful Ones

Image Credit: lifehack.org

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and writing about emotions, and speaking to clients about them. I like to explain that understanding emotions and facing your feelings is important and why it is that we so often neglect them. We’re each different regarding the emotions we’re uncomfortable with, and which ones we’re most likely to deny.

One of my clients is often overwhelmed when she experiences sadness. She’s had this reaction for a long time and works hard to keep feelings of sadness out of her awareness. She’s a master at denial and distraction. But, she’s also self-aware and wants to change. So, our plan is simple. Can she approach this emotion with kindness and acceptance? Can she remember that it is just a feeling? And
can she allow herself to notice how her body feels when sad feelings emerge? If so, can she extend
compassion to herself in that moment. As she’s learned to better tolerate sadness, she can stay more

Here is the story she shared with me the other day in my office. She had just gotten off the phone with her business partner and felt very sad. She wasn’t sure why, but unlike her usual response, which would be to deny this unexpected feeling, she acknowledged it and named it as sadness. She found a quiet place where she could just sit and let happen whatever needed to happen. In a few minutes she began to cry. Then she had an image of being criticized by her mother, and along with this image came the sense of her mother’s disdain. It was a hard insight, but it felt true to her and reflected something she had always sensed. She was not a favored child, and as much as she tried to please her mother, she never could.

No one wants to look at rejection like this, but now as a 40 year old, she had the emotional fortitude to glimpse this reality. As my client allowed herself to stay with her sadness, she realized her business
partner, in their phone conversation, had a dismissive tone with her. And it was this particular tone that had given rise to her sense of sadness. Her business partner was not her mother, and although he could be tough, he was also fair, and they had a good relationship. So while she understood this logically, she also made room for the heavy feelings that weren’t so logical. These feelings were her
unique vulnerability to expressions of dismissive behavior.

We all have vulnerabilities like this. Things hat are particularly hard for us because of childhood hurts, neglect or trauma. What my client did that was different for her was make space for the sad feelings. She was able to feel upset, without being overwhelmed. Equally importantly, she extended compassion to that younger part of herself that had felt hurt and rejected.

Something surprising happened to her after this. Rather than continue to feel sad, she felt the sadness
dissipate. In fact, she reported feeling more energy during the rest of her day. Often we forget that denying emotions takes energy. Whether we’re aware of it or not, we’re using energy to deny, repress
or divert ourselves. Taking time to be aware of our feelings actually takes less time and preserves our
energy to experience more joy in our lives. When strong feelings happen, it’s always good to pay attention. Feelings are there for a reason.

Here are the steps that will help you stay in touch with your feelings:

  1. Notice your body's reaction
  2. Name the emotion you’re feeling
  3. Accept this emotion as valid
  4. Investigate why the emotion emerged
  5. Extend compassion to yourself