How big are emotions?
Many people talk about "managing" or "controlling" their emotions. However, emotions are meant to be felt! Once they’re fully felt, a person is in a better position to choose their behaviors and manage their thoughts.
Rather than focusing on controlling emotions, stuffing them, or ignoring them, it’s healthier to focus on acceptance, curiosity, and empathy.
However, many of us are living with the mistaken belief that emotions are HUGE and overwhelming. We think, "If I let myself cry, I might never stop." or, "If I express my anger, I might explode."
That's why it's so helpful to practice just being with emotions and learning to feel them regularly. It means asking questions like, What are the sensations in my body? What stories am I make up about that emotion? What does this emotion want for me?
I remember one afternoon some months after my dad died, I was having this overwhelming moment of grief that felt a lot like fear. I am forever grateful for my coach, because somehow in my mind I had imagined that my grief was bigger than I was, and I was so afraid of feeling it. Unknowingly, I had created an image in my mind of a grief that was several times my size and that threatened to engulf me.
So, my coach asked me to imagine myself sitting in a room with my grief, with myself in one chair and my grief in another. All of a sudden I just knew that my grief was smaller than me and we could have a chat. It was ok for me to be in a room, with my coach, and with my grief. Just having that conversation was dramatically changing for me because I was able to feel, instead of resisting. It turned out not to be so bad, and I have enjoyed many kind moments with the waves of grief that have come and gone since then.
It's empowering when we are able to stay in our bodies and not have to escape. Jill Bolte Taylor's classic book, My Stroke of Insight, talks about the surge of chemicals in our bodies. Biologically, these chemicals actually move through the body in only 90 seconds.
Isn't that reassuring? To know that if you can stay in your body sensations for 90 seconds, and let those chemicals do their job, they will move through you, dissipate and disappear. All it takes is letting yourself be present to them.
Unless, of course, you wanted to feel bad longer. In that case, you would just need to keep ruminating on negative stories and re-triggering the same flood of emotions. Or become so afraid of feeling that the chemical flood is never allowed to complete its cycle. But that's not you. You're ready to feel a lot better.
You can trust yourself. You are not your emotions. You are not your thoughts. Though emotions may like to appear huge and overwhelming, when you choose to stay with them with curiosity and kindness, they soon shrink to their little, manageable size.
What's your next step? How much kindness and attention can you bring to your cells the next time a "big" emotion comes to call?
With great love,
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