Welcome to part 2 of my post on how to release sticky feelings. In the previous article I wrote about some common ways we avoid identifying our emotions or engaging them directly and provided some information on how to identify your emotions – and how to notice when you are avoiding them. Once you’ve identified your emotions, the next step is to accept them (a step that many struggle with). After you have accepted what you are feeling, you can then take action to resolve them. Let’s get into it.
Accept Your Feelings
So you’ve identified your emotion – maybe you feel angry, sad, or even proud and joyful. These can be fairly uncomfortable emotions to experience, even the positive emotions, and many of us carry with us learned assumptions about these emotions. We may have experienced being punished when feeling this way and as a result experience shame or fear when we feel them. This leads to defense mechanisms like intellectualizing our emotions as mentioned in the part 1 – behaviors we engage in which distance us from an object that causes us anxiety, in this case an emotion. We reject these emotions because of the assumptions we make about them – that sadness makes you weak, or that being proud of yourself is a vice. This is what “judging” your emotions means. These kinds of judgments were probably learned in childhood or during traumatic events. As I mentioned before, avoiding our emotions means they never get expressed and thus keep finding ways back into our conscious awareness – looking for acknowledgement. So how do you accept what you are feeling – without judging?
Try practicing awareness while you are engaging with your emotions. When you have identified an emotion, notice how you react to it. Notice if you tense up, and where in your body you tense up. When you notice tension – release it. Notice that you aren’t in any danger, you are simply feeling an emotion. An exercise I find very useful is called Mood Children:
Imagine that all your moods are children that you love equally. Doesn’t the bad mood have just as much right to be here as the good mood? Welcome it with open, loving arms, don’t banish it, spank it, or send it to bed without supper.Awareness Games, Brian Tom O’Connor
This simple exercise can do a lot to improve your relationship to emotions. I use this exercise especially when I am feeling fearful or anxious – instead of feeling resentment or dread that I am experiencing fear, I imagine myself soothing my fear like I would soothe a child who is scared. Sometimes, I even thank my fear for bringing a potential threat to my attention, and once I have assessed the threat to be a non-threat I tell my fear it has done a good job and can go rest now. It seems really hokey at first, but it’s been effective for me. Try it for yourself and share in the comments how it changed your relationship to your feelings. The goal with these kinds of exercises is to change your relationship to your emotions from one that is a resentful or tense relationship into one that is accepting. When you accept your emotions, it becomes easier to engage them to figure out what they are trying to tell you that you need, which gets into the next section.
Resolve Your Feelings
To resolve your feelings we must first ask the question: what is the function of feelings? In The Secret Language of Feelings, Calvin D. Banyan writes a lot about the function of feelings. Most of this section is going to be based around what he writes in his book, which I can’t recommend enough. He states that feelings/emotions function as signals. When you feel good, it is signaling to you that you have successfully taken actions that satisfy your needs. When you feel bad, it is a signal that some need is unmet and is trying to direct your attention to that need. In this way, bad emotions function very similarly to physical pain – and in fact, emotions are often described as painful. Banyan goes on to use the metaphor of the dashboard lights of a car – when your car needs its oil changed, a light comes on. If you continuously try to fix the oil change light by going to the car wash, changing the spark plugs, or getting new tires, you will find that the light is not going to go away. You must change the oil to make the oil change light go off. This is a pretty solid metaphor for feelings. The problem that a lot of people run into, is that they don’t really know what an emotion is trying to signal, so they don’t know what action they need to take to resolve it. Banyan provides us with an answer with his 1-2-3 method identified in the book – identify the emotion, identify the cause, then identify a solution:
|Boredom||Not being challenged in some area of your life.||Find an engaging and challenging activity, such as learning a new skill. Exercise is another great option.|
|Anger||The perception that something is unfair to you or something you care about.||First, be honest with yourself about whether or not your perception is rational or correct. If something is truly unfair, then seek out reasonable ways to create fairness. If this cannot be done, forgive.|
|Guilt||The perception that you’ve been unfair to someone else and you fear the consequences – such as causing harm.||Again, be honest about whether or not your perception is rational or correct. Then, take responsibility for your actions in a way that mitigates the unfairness that was caused. Finally, forgive yourself.|
|Sadness||You have lost someone or something that is important to you.||Assess whether a loss has truly occurred – remember emotions arise from perceptions. Recover what you have lost, or replace the loss of the important person or thing. If the loss was a person, create a new relationship which fulfills your needs. Allow yourself to grieve and process your loss.|
|Loneliness||A lack of satisfying human companionship.||Reach out to people. Plan an outing with friends, or find a community event to attend.|
|Inadequacy||Feeling like we are not enough, that we are not good enough. Usually precipitated by an event where you felt you failed to perform.||Check if your perception is accurate. Is it a reasonable expectation, ? If so, what steps can you take to enhance your skills in this area?|
|Stress||Thinking you have too many things to do and not enough resources to do them well.||Another perception check – do you have too much to do, or are you tired, leaving your tolerance for your load demolished? Sit down and create a plan to manage what needs to get done. See what can be let go – learn to say no to some people.|
|Fear||Thinking that something bad may happen to you or something you care about. Lack of security.||This one could have its own blog post. First, identify if there is a real threat. If there is a real threat, take action and prepare if you can – look for resources. A lot of people experience habitual fear – which can take a lot of work to undo. You might refer to the mood children exercise earlier in this article for dealing with irrational fear.|
Frustration and Depression
According to Banyan, frustration and depression are both the result of cyclically engaging in behaviors which distract us from our emotions – preventing us from satisfying the needs they are signaling to us. The emotions presented in the above table are all primary emotions, while frustration is a secondary emotion and depression is a tertiary emotion.
Frustration is what we feel when something isn’t working – we feel a primary emotion but distract ourselves from it, leading to frustration when our needs go unmet. Because we have not learned to accept our emotions, we continue distracting ourselves until the frustration continues to increase in intensity, until finally it proliferates into depression. Depression then functions as an emergency safety valve – you feel sapped of your motivation and will to continue, stopping you from continuing the fruitless cycle of distraction and increasing frustration, for a while. People who experience depression have trouble engaging in everyday activities – they feel slowed down, heavy, listless and numb. I know because I have been depressed before. I think the model Banyan presents makes complete sense, especially when I reflect on the eventual solutions I developed that got me out of my episodes of depression. Have you ever been depressed or frustrated? How did you resolve it?
The solution for both frustration and depression is to pause and rest. When you are ready, you can start from square one: identify what was frustrating you, identify the primary emotion that was pointing to your unmet need. Use the suggestions throughout part 1 and this article to identify and accept what you are feeling, then use the above table to identify an appropriate solution. Once you get the hang of it this process will feel natural and intuitive, similar to how natural it is to feed ourselves when we experience hunger.
By now you can see that emotions are intricate and provide an important function in our lives that should not be diminished. Emotions can be difficult to process – they can blend together, or you might feel one emotion in response to another. These tools can take a while to get used to, and it can take quite a bit of time to process a single emotional event once you start to really engage with it. You may even find a single event that seemed small could have multiple layers to it. You may use meditation to identify a feeling, such as joy or sadness, and you might feel guilt or inadequacy attached to those feelings. Just keep going through each step – identify, accept, resolve – until you have satisfied your needs. If you have spent a long time suppressing your emotions, it might feel like a geyser has erupted at first. It’s kind of like checking in on your emails or messages after being away for a week – except for some people it’s been a lifetime. Always be patient with yourself and appreciate yourself for taking the time to listen to your needs. I hope these tools are useful. Thanks for reading!