Greetings fellow mindful travelers! Happy December!
This month is part 3 and my final exploration of the question “How the heck do I deal with my emotions?!” In case you missed it, here is part 1 and part 2. To recap, here’s the introduction from last two months:
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 3), I will be going over the final 8 tools from each toolbox. So let’s dive in and continue to learn our A, B, C’s of relating to our emotions.
Toolbox #1 – Do you relate to your emotions with these strategies?
-We get into a big tug-of-war battle with our emotions. We tell them they are “bad,” “wrong,” or that we should know better than to feel this way. We think that struggling with them is the way to make them go away.
Throw your emotions at yourself or others
-Like a hot potato, we try to throw our emotions at someone else. We blame others for the way we feel, or we punish ourselves for feeling a certain way. For example, yelling at someone else if you are angry.
-We tell our emotions that they are “unwanted,” “not allowed,” “unappreciated,” etc. How do our emotions respond when they hear this? How might you feel if someone else told you your emotions are unwanted?
-We turn out emotions into a huge evil monster out to get us and start a war with them. We do what we can to fight them and win the war. Or we are so afraid of our emotions that we do what we can to hide from them.
-We tell our emotions that they are “wrong” or we are “wrong” for feeling a certain way. But is there a “right” way to feel?
-We try to eliminate our emotions by distraction, drugs, or even self-harm. We treat them like a bug infestation that must be eliminated.
Your worst enemy
-Have you ever felt like your own worst enemy? That’s because you are making these parts of you into enemies. You may want to question, are they really enemies? Or are they here to give me valuable feedback about something?
Zap it away
-We stimulate ourselves via TV, movies, games, extreme sports, anything that makes us feel something that may make the current feeling go away. If we had a zap-gun that could make our feelings go away, we would use it. For example, if we are feeling sad, we turn on a positive movie to make that feeling go away; or we zap ourselves with ice cream when we are feeling sad.
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?
Stretch and Spaciousness
-We can move our body in healthy ways that expresses our emotions. Ask your body how it wants to move. And give your emotions some space to breath. Sometimes when we are feeling strong emotions, the best thing we can do is take a break and give it some space.
Talk it out / Take Responsibility
-Talk about how you feel with someone you trust and someone that will relate to your emotions with care and compassion. Also, we can take responsibility for caring for our own emotions without blaming ourselves or others.
-Can we seek to understand our emotions with gentle curiosity? When we seek to understand ourselves and others first, a solution then comes much more easily. Understanding is another way of showing our emotions that we care about them.
-Emotions need to be validated with an unconditional “Yes, it is OK to feel this way, you are allowed to feel this way, it makes sense you feel this way, it is normal to feel this way.” All emotions, positive or negative, need validating.
-Like a party guest, we must welcome all emotions that show up at our door and invite them in. “Welcome sadness, welcome anger, welcome fear, welcome joy, you are allowed to be here and OK as you are.”
-Meaning: ”Of, relating to, or constituting hospitality or relations between host and guest.” Can we provide hospitality for all our emotions that show up?
-Can we give our emotions an unconditional “yes are you allowed to be here, yes you are valid, yes are you valuable, yes you matter.”
-We can zoom-in and explore our emotions with curiosity (“where exactly in my body is this emotions showing up?”), and we can zoom-out and see the bigger picture – that emotions are temporary and do not last forever, and that they are energy that moves through us and into others in an interconnection between us and all beings.
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?
To sum up all three parts take a look at the chart below:
|Toolbox #1 (if you usually do this…)||Toolbox #2 (try this out…)|
|Avoidance||Acceptance, Allowing, |
|Beating yourself up / Blaming||Breathing|
|Control||Compassion and Curiosity|
|Drugs / drinking||Drop the struggle|
|Escape how we feel||Express in a healthy way|
|Getting rid of||Gratitude for emotions|
|Holding on tightly||Hold with kindness|
|Ignore||Investigate with curiosity|
|Justify or Judge||Just be with|
|Keep it hidden||Kindness with emotions|
|Limit your emotions||Loving attention|
|Numb ourselves||Noticing needs|
|Overthink||Observing with Openness|
|Pushing away emotions||Presence|
|Repress||Reach out for help|
|Struggle||Stretch and Spaciousness|
|Throw emotions at self/others||Talk it out / Take responsibility|
|X-terminate||Xenial (provide hospitality)|
|Your worst enemy||“Yes”|
|Zap it away||Zoom-in / Zoom-out|
Just notice and bring awareness to this. We have all done some of the strategies in toolbox 1 (I know I have) so no judgments 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
Thank you for coming along this journey with me! It was a lot of fun to create this 3 part series. If you would like to work together, feel free to respond to reach out to me, or sign up for a workshop below!
Until next time,
Ellis Edmunds, Psy.D.
P.S. Want to learn more? I have two upcoming workshops in Oakland:
*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 register)