Greetings fellow mindful travelers!
This month I challenged myself to get creative and use the alphabet to come up with words or phrases that describe two different approaches to emotions.
To many people, emotions are a mystery. The mainstream media does not talk about them directly, schools don’t teach about them, and many people grow up in households where emotions are never talked about.
And yet, all 7 billion of us humans are experiencing emotions all day every day, and they play a major role in our wellbeing and decisions we make.
Typically it isn’t until people start to feel anxious, depressed, or overwhelmed that they start to pay some attention to their emotions.
And when people are in emotional pain, there’s one question they start to ask: How do I get out of this emotional pain?
When anger shows up, what do I do with that?
When I feel sad, how do I cope?
When fear takes me over, what do I do to help myself?
Why do I feel like I “should” be happy all the time but I’m not?
What people are really asking is: How do I relate to my emotions?
The thing is, most people don’t even realize they are relating to their emotions in certain ways, all day every day, so they just unconsciously relate to them in ways they were taught as children and don’t consider any other way.
In my opinion, learning to relate to your emotions should be as fundamental as learning your A,B,C’s
It is in fact in childhood where we set the foundation for how to relate to our emotions, even before we learn to speak!
Newborn children communicate almost exclusively with their emotions, and how our caregivers respond to those emotions teaches us how we respond to our emotions later in life.
One of the keys to emotions is this: We can’t control exactly what emotions show up in our lives, but we can control how we respond to what emotions show up.
Our emotions are not problems. It is how we relate to our emotions that creates problems.
In this article I’m going to talk about 2 different toolboxes, 2 different ways of relating to emotions.
The first is the toolbox sometimes given to us by our parents, by society, peers, teachers, or coaches. Sometimes we don’t even know why we are using these tools to relate to our emotions, and sometimes they provide a temporary relief, so we continue to use them in hopes they will be a long term solution. Often we are completely unaware that we are relating to our emotions in these ways.
The second toolbox is an alternative to the first, but seems much less popular, and much less used by most. However, in my experience this toolbox tends to lead to healthy outcomes in the long term. But don’t take my word for it, experiment with each toolbox and see for yourself.
So let’s take a look inside each emotional toolbox, and as we go through each, put a check mark by the ones you tend to do. Just becoming aware of your tendencies is the first step.
You may also want to reflect on how you relate to other people’s emotions in these ways, as it is often similar to how we relate to our own emotions.
Each toolbox has 26 tools, one for each letter of the alphabet. In this post (part 1), I will be going over the first 9 tools from each toolbox. So let’s dive in and start to learn our A, B, C’s of relating to our emotions.
Toolbox #1 – Do you relate to your emotions with these strategies?
-Doing what we can to avoid feeling, especially negative emotions, with such strategies as staying busy, watching lots of videos or video games, staying home and not engaging in social situations that may bring up anxiety, etc.
Beating yourself up/ Blame yourself or others
-Telling ourselves that we are “bad” for feeling a certain way, or making someone else completely responsible for how you are feeling.
-Control is a tricky word. Remember, we can’t control how we feel, we can control how we relate to how we feel. Control means we try to control our emotions by trying to make them go away, or make ourselves feel good such as eating something sugary if we are feeling bad.
Drugs or drinking
-Using substances to numb ourselves or get a temporary high so we don’t have to feel how we really are feeling.
Escape how we feel
-This one is all too easy these days with smart phones, technology, and virtual worlds we can escape to.
-We tell our emotions we don’t like them and argue with them, tell them they are “stupid,” tell ourselves we “shouldn’t” be feeling a certain way, etc.
Getting rid of
-More accurately we “try” to get rid of our emotions, because the energy actually has to go somewhere or be dealt with somehow. There is no delete button for our emotions (sorry). Drugs are an easy example as well as yelling at someone to try to get rid of your anger.
Holding on tightly to positive feelings
-We have a wonderful experience and want to hold on to that feeling forever. This is how some addictions form. Remember, emotions are impermanent, and even the positive ones come and go at their own pace.
-Sometimes we are just not self-aware and don’t even notice how we are feeling. Other times we purposefully pretend we don’t feel a certain way, or distract ourselves through technology or other activities. We may also deny that we are feeling a certain way, when deep down we know it to be true.
OK, how did you do? If you find yourself doing any or all of these, you are not alone. We all end up relating to our emotions (or the emotions of others) in these ways. Again, just notice and bring awareness to them to begin.
Toolbox #2 – Do you relate to your emotions with these strategies?
Acceptance, Allowing, Attunement
-Do you allow and accept your emotions as they are? Can you tune into exactly how you are feeling and be with it for some time?
-When you feel a strong emotion, take a deep breath, all the way from your belly, and give your emotion some space to breath.
Compassion and Curiosity
-Can we be kind to ourselves when we are hurting, feeling sad, or down? Can we non-judgmentally bring curiosity to our experience?
Drop the struggle
-When we find ourselves fighting with our emotions, we can just notice that struggle, and drop it. Can we let go of battling ourselves?
Express emotions in a healthy way
-The key word here is healthy. If we express our emotions as a means to try to get rid of them or tell them they are bad, we are back in toolbox #1. If we express them as a way of honoring them, we have come back to healthy resolution. The most important key here is to express them in a way that does not cause harm to others or yourself. Some examples may include journaling, talking with a caring person, art, music, dance, or other expressive movement and noise. Nonviolent communication is another way.
-The willingness to feel how you are feeling is the key to healing. As the saying goes, you have to feel it to heal it. What would it be like to grant yourself permission to fully feel your feelings?
-We can actually we grateful for all our emotions both good and bad. Our emotions give us valuable feedback about our environment, they help us communicate with others, form lasting relationships, and have compassion for others struggling in similar ways. We can say “thank you” to whatever emotions show up and see them as gifts.
Hold with kindness
-Imagine holding a newborn child, or something that is precious to you. This is how we can hold our emotions.
Investigate with curiosity
-If we are feeling anxious, we can investigate this feeling with curiosity. Where in your body do you feel it? What does the feeling look like? What is it trying to communicate to us? Again, just like a crying child, we would investigate why the child is crying so that we could understand its needs.
OK great. Take a moment to go back and reflect on each strategy for yourself. When have you done that one? With what emotions do you relate to in certain ways?
Do you ignore your anger, but accept your sadness?
Do you fight with your anxiety, but are grateful for your joy?
Just notice and bring awareness to this. We have all done some of the strategies in toolbox 1 (I know I have) so no judgements about it. The more awareness you bring to what you do, the more power you have to choose from either toolbox in the future.
The key to all of this is:
Step 1: Notice what emotion shows up
Step 2: Choose a tool for how to relate to it
When in doubt, ask the emotion: How do you want me to relate to you right now? What do you need?
That’s it for this month. Check back next month for part 2 where I will uncover the next 9 strategies in toolbox 1 and 2!
Until next time,
Ellis Edmunds, Psy.D.
P.S. I have two upcoming workshops:
- Mindfulness for Stress and Anxiety – Free Introductory Class – January 9th, 2020
- Mindful Dating in the Digital Age workshop – December 14, 2019
Click the links above to sign up! 🙂