When emotions are positive, we usually enjoy them and even search them out, but if they are negative, we tend to deny them or try to hide from them. This approach can hold us captive emotionally.
What, then, can you do to process your difficult feelings in a beneficial way?
Often, when we feel strong emotions – particularly difficult and uncomfortable ones – it’s a sign that there is an underlying, unmet need. Only when we make room for, and welcome, our feelings* can we create access to what this need is, and empower ourselves to understand and address the need which is attached to the difficult and sometimes painful emotions.
Consider these five ways to practice making room for difficult feelings:
Welcome the Difficult Feelings
“Hello, anger, sadness, irritability, loneliness!” – Invite the feeling in. Don’t suppress it. Let it take up as much room as it needs. Even if you’re busy doing something, it can be more productive to pause and take a few minutes to just be with your feeling, than to try and push it aside. Allow it time, but don’t let it go on indefinitely: “Okay, anger, I’m going to give you three minutes to take up as much space as you need right now, but that’s all.”
Listen to What the Feeling Is Trying to Tell You
Feelings are energy that carry information about your deeper experience. They can be a helpful guide to your inner self, if you allow them to be. When you have a strong emotion, simply ask it why it’s here, and if it has a message for you. Then take time to really listen. What is the first response that comes to your mind? Without judgment, just stay present and let the answer sink in. Don’t withdraw. Continue the dialogue with your feeling until you get enough information to see the underlying need, or clarify what you don’t understand.
If you’re aware of a discomfort in your body, rather than an emotion, you can try the same technique of questioning. The discomfort is trying to draw you in, leading you to an underlying, unmet need. Instead of relating to it with judgment and criticism – which is a sure-fire way to continue in discomfort – ask the discomfort why it’s here, and carefully listen.
Get Connected to Your Difficult Feelings With the Help of a Trusted Friend
“I just want to share that I’m feeling this and need a connection to my feeling.” – Often reaching for support can bring ease and comfort, just by naming what it is that you’re feeling and needing. Let your friend help you create the room to just be in whatever feeling or state of mind you’re in and receive acceptance, support, and compassion.
You may need to be clear and explain that you don’t need the friend to fix the feeling for you, or make it better. You just want a connection for how you’re feeling, so you’re not alone. Many people with good intentions love to approach the discomfort that others express with a response to fix the issue through minimizing or distracting, instead of simply validating, empathizing, and connecting.
Journal About the Difficult Feelings
Journaling creates a containment for strong emotions, such as anger. It allows the feeling to be expressed, but keeps the energy flowing in a safe and controlled manner, instead of bottling it up.
Let your feeling express itself through writing. For example: If anger were to speak right now, what would it say? Free-write the answer, allowing whatever wants to come through right then to express itself. Be a witness to the expressions of your anger without judging, like a supportive friend.
Reach Out For More Help
At times, it’s hard to process difficult emotions on our own. Approaching the matter through journaling, or with the help of a personal friend, might not work for you. If a feeling is lingering, and you don’t feel like you have enough support to express it safely or process it on a deeper level, you may need more assistance.
Sometimes it can be helpful to bring your feelings into therapy to process them in a safe and supportive space, and so you can learn healthy ways to welcome and understand your emotions.
* (Note: For more information on welcoming our difficult feelings, please also read the blog post “No Mud, No Lotus: Facing your Uncomfortable Feelings”)
We invite you to call our office for a free 15-minute phone consultation at 860-258-4171. We’re happy to discuss your specific needs and to answer any questions you have about counseling and our practice.