Dealing with Emotions

Unwanted emotions. How do you deal with emotions?

As emotional beings of this earth, we all are inevitably going to feel a wide range of emotions. It is arguably, one of the characteristic traits of the human condition and being a sentient being on this planet. We know and understand on a core level, that we will inevitably feel happiness, sadness, anger and fear. So what do we do with those negative emotions when they come up?

Tell me if any of these sound like your familiar go-to’s:

  • Check-out- Use those familiar comforts to numb yourself from the feeling
  • Blame- Project it on someone else
  • Avoidance- Pretend it isn’t really there
  • Blow it up- Make it bigger and badder than it really is

It is human nature to avoid the uncomfortable. We as humans are really good at finding ways to avoid that uncomfortability. We want to feel good, of course! So, we use what we know to get us through it. Anything to get to the other side of this feeling!

Handling Emotions

I’m going to stop you right there, before you go justifying your poor coping mechanisms.

What if life is not meant to always feel good? What if a life, completely fulfilled and whole, is emotional? How would your perspective then change?

What if the meaning of life was to experience it’s every offering, good and bad? Every moment, our emotions are evolving.  They change just as frequently as the clouds, and move just as swiftly.

Our emotions serve a biological purpose, but aren’t as accurate as we give them credit for being. We invest so much into our emotions, it’s how we feel.  How could they be wrong? Here’s a quick breakdown of what our emotions are and where they come from:

Fear

Our minds, are constantly working inside the confines of what it knows. It is constantly trying to make judgments on its surroundings, based on the environment and what’s happening. So we have a bunch of stimuli going on in the outside world, and as our mind is trying to get a grasp on whether it’s even fundamentally safe or not, it looks for cues.  Is this experience pleasant? Am I comfortable? Is this safe? – it’s our reaction to this environment that creates emotion. When we are safe, we are happy. When we aren’t we experience fear, anger and sadness, or some mutated variation of it.

 

Now, here is the most mind blowing thing about emotions. They don’t last very long, at all. About 90 seconds. Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist Nun, asserts this claim and explains it beautifully. In her book, Living Beautifully, Chodron explains this claim in more detail. (Jill Bolte Taylor, also talks about this in a more medical context in her book, A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey) Here’s the Cliff Notes of Chodron’s take:

If you were to simply allow an emotion to exist for 90 seconds, without any judgment or attachment, it will go away at the end of that 90 Seconds. Seems crazy, right? She goes on to explain that, when we experience an emotion for longer than that, which can at times feel like an eternity, it’s our own thoughts keeping us there. She refers to those thoughts, as hooks. Hooks into some story or belief, that we are holding onto for whatever reason. She suggests just feeling into that emotion, as much as possible prior to letting it go.

So that’s it. It’s really that easy as a few brief steps, and you could be moving through an emotion in under two minutes. Here is my formula for handling those emotions:

  1. Stop. Breathe, and identify the emotion.
  2. Allow it. Give it all the space, energy and heart you have. Treat it authentically, giving it the grace to just be an emotion.
  3. Let it go. Release any stories, thoughts or hooks that want to hold onto that emotion a little longer.

It seems so simple, but it is a life changing three steps if you can permit it it’s space. Emotions, are a part of life. They are never “good” or “bad”, those are modifications that we put on it ourselves. Emotions are just our brains best guess at how to interact with its environment.

When we resist our emotions, we are resisting an integral part of life. 

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