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How to sit with strong emotions

Many of us are taught that any ‘negative’ feeling is wrong. We aren’t taught this with actual words, but through observing how other people deal with these emotions when they come up, or how we ourselves are handled when these emotions come up for us. It happens when we’re feeling sad and a parent, with the best of intentions, offers us ice cream to make us feel better. Or when we get angry and our emotional outburst results in us getting disciplined. Or in later years when we break up with someone we love, and our friends tell us there’s plenty more fish in the sea.

Yet, emotions are a part of human existence. Sure, we may all feel things in different ways and to varying capacities, but we do all experience a full spectrum of emotions. When you don’t know how to sit with uncomfortable emotions, you are more likely to avoid them by numbing out with food, alcohol or other drugs, medications, brief sexual encounters or perhaps creating drama or stresses to focus on, to divert your attention and focus away from what you are feeling.

It may seem like letting yourself experience the full force of strong emotions will make you feel worse or perhaps add to your stress but in fact the opposite is true. Often we create more pain and heartache for ourselves when we engage in avoiding behaviours since we usually know in our heart that these things aren’t good for us and pile guilt and shame onto our emotional load. There is an immense freedom that comes with being brutally honest with ourselves about how we are feeling and acknowledging when there is sadness, grief, heartbreak, anger or rage. It’s also incredibly beneficial for deepening your self-awareness as recognising when things evoke your emotions enables you to reflect on who you are in your heart.

Here are a few tips to help you along the way.

“Name it to tame it”

In his book Mindsight, the wonderful Dr Daniel Siegel uses the phrase “name it to tame it”. In other words, by identifying our feelings—and separating ourselves from them (i.e. ‘I feel angry’ versus ‘I am angry’)—we reduce the power they have over us. The vast majority of people would describe themselves as stressed. I would argue that stress has become an acceptable umbrella term for all kinds of uncomfortable emotions. Yet, until you know what it is, you are powerless to change it.

Remind yourself that emotions come and go

Emotions are like the waves of the ocean—they ebb and flow. You are like the seabed that the waves wash over—ever present and enduring. Whatever the strong emotion is, it is transient. You will not feel it forever. Reminding yourself of this can make facing it that little less frightening.

Leave judgement at the door

When it comes to what you feel, there is no right or wrong so please try to keep your inner judge quiet when you reflect on your emotions. Instead, invite curiosity and ask yourself: I wonder what might be driving that feeling?

Recognise that the ‘why’ might come later

While in some circumstances, it might be blatantly obvious what has triggered your strong emotional response, in others, the reason may be more elusive. Just because you can’t put your finger on the reason doesn’t mean your feelings are any less valid. It may take days, months or even years for you to fully comprehend the ‘why’.

From pain we grow

Pain can offer us insight into what our Soul needs us to learn and can help form a solid foundation for a meaningful life. It can be worth doing our best to consider if we are living with the belief that what occurs TO us, or rather it happens FOR us—in order for us to be the most evolved expression of ourselves as possible.

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