I was exhausted as our conversation was starting to go in circles. I looked at the clock and it was now 4 AM. “Don’t be upset. What you’re feeling is wrong.” He repeated over and over again. With a persistent tone, the worst thing my boyfriend at the time would relentlessly ask is, “Why can’t you just be happy?”
As a psychotherapist, I see my clients come into my office with complaints about difficult feelings: anger, sadness, anxiety, hate, loss, and confusion. What they really want is relief, peace of mind, and happiness.
“Ignore your feelings!”
“Push through them!”
These are the common messages we get from society about how to deal with our emotions.
But, I hesitate to ignore emotions because they are always bringing something important to our attention.
Anger shows us where we need to set a boundary.
Anxiety informs us that something doesn’t feel safe.
Sadness tells us where we need to heal.
Emotions are like bubbles in the body. They tend to want to rise up, and when we push them down with resistance, with escape, or with denial they may dissipate for a bit, but they will rise right back up with wise messages until we do the following:
1. Acknowledge. Develop awareness of which negative feeling is showing up. It takes more energy to resist your emotions than to recognize them. Once you identify the first emotion that is arising, ask yourself if there are any other negative emotions showing up as well.
2. Question. Ask yourself if the information triggering these emotions is true. Are they facts or assumptions? Is there more information you need to explore before deciding how you feel?
3. Space. Create space for your emotions. Instead of judging yourself for what you’re feeling and wanting to get rid of it as soon as possible, give yourself permission to tend to the emotion. Don’t tell yourself what you should or shouldn’t be feeling.
4. Feel. Once you’ve stopped judging it, identify where in your body you are feeling it. Is the feeling in your face, stomach, chest? Imagine the feeling living in every cell of your body. The only way out of these emotions is to feel them, deeply. An example of this is when you notice yourself wanting to cry all day, hold it back and then you finally sob- and it’s an amazing release. The only way out of it is through it.
5. Need. Once the emotion has been identified, give it a voice. Try journaling as if that emotion could speak, asking it why it’s here and what it needs. Then go out there and give it just that. Maybe you need to give yourself permission to cry, maybe you need to advocate for what you need in your relationship, or maybe you need to practice compassion for yourself.
Some of us are afraid of letting ourselves feel these emotions because we are afraid we may never stop crying. The truth is emotions are energy in motion. They are forever moving like the waves of the ocean and they will pass, but only if we are willing to dip our feet in the water.