How Do I Navigate My Emotional Wilderness?
How do you feel about the surges of emotions that you experience? For me, even though this is the work I specialise in, difficult emotions like fear, anger and sadness can be very hard to navigate, and so painful that I just want them to go away.
When I have a big, strong, difficult emotion come up, I forget everything I know. I am a beginner everytime. Usually before I'm even aware that I'm feeling an emotion, I'm trying to get rid of it because it hurts! And when something hurts, the old fight-flight-freeze part of the brain kicks in, and before I know it, I'm either acting the emotion out on someone through blame and judgement, numbing it out, or stuffing it down, and tightening the lid.
The problem is that none of these reactions to difficult emotions work. They don't give us the relief we want, or tap into the valid need that our emotions are trying to express.
Lashing out might feel good while I'm doing it, but inevitably it hurts and alienates others, bringing on even more difficult emotions. Numbing my feelings out or stuffing them down may feel like temporary relief, but the problem is you can't just shut one emotion down. When I tighten that lid, I'm shutting all my emotions down... including my joy, wonder, excitement, and curiosity. That's not what I want.
Another fact that's less well known is that our emotions play a very important role in pointing us toward our deepest needs in any given situation. They are our own built in navigation system. We just need to learn how to listen to and understand what they are trying to tell us.
And guess what happens when we do? Listening in to our emotions, actually giving ourselves the time and space to just feel what we're feeling, not only points us toward what we need, love and value most, but it brings relief!
So how do I do this in the heat of the moment when my fight-flight-freeze is kicking in?
What emotion am I feeling right now?
Name the emotion you're feeling, and any physical sensations, thoughts or images that you notice coming and going.
Just feel what you're feeling as you breathe. If you feel discomfort or pain, notice where you'e feeling it in your body, how it feels, how it comes and goes, and whatever thoughts or images come and go with it. Do this for a few breaths... no need to push it. No need to analyze or fix it.
Just be with yourself as you are and notice the effect.
You can do this anywhere and anytime... while waiting at a stop light, while doing the dishes, in the middle of an argument, whenever you feel a wave of emotion coming up. It's a safe, easy, and portable process to help you experience your emotions in the moment, so that you don't have to lash them out or stuff them down.
Next time, I'll share what I do to identify and meet the deeper needs that my emotions are trying to express.
In the meantime, let me know by email or in the FB comments section if this resonates with you; if you have any questions or comments; or just to share your experience.
Here's to living our wildest and most authentic emotional lives to the fullest!
I'd like to give thanks to all those who have taught me the discipline of asking myself, naming, and feeling what I'm feeling, including: Jon Kabat-Zinn's Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program, Marshall Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication, Ann Weiser Cornell's Inner Relationship Focusing, and Larry Nusbaum MD for his Questions for Inner Guidance.