|Posted by [email protected] on October 16, 2015 at 8:30 PM|
I have always been emotionally volatile. I often made adults uncomfortable growing up because my tears were always quick to flow. I was told to “grow up” and to “act your age.” Sometimes I heard, “If you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you something to cry about!” I was taunted by classmates, ridiculed by teachers, and shamed by many of the other adults in my life. I struggled mightily to learn how to control my tears, but not one of those people who admonished me about crying ever thought to teach me or help me with this. Too often, they seemed to think that my tears were meant to manipulate them and therefore must be quashed in whatever fashion they thought most likely to do the trick. None of them offered me tools for learning emotional resilience or strategies for bolstering my emotional landscape to prevent the frequent flooding. This is likely because they didn’t have those tools, didn’t know those strategies.
This society does not value emotions and doesn’t teach people emotional intelligence. We do not equip people to cope with emotions, nor do we honor the messages our emotions are trying to convey. We cannot even conceive of there being any sort of wisdom in emotionality. So instead we are encouraged through shame and other tactics to ignore or suppress our emotions. We are supposed to “control ourselves” and only give in to our emotions when it is socially appropriate to do so.
I am an emotion coach. I have received some training in emotionally focused therapy and I pursued that because i believe strongly in the wisdom of our emotions. Guy Winch, in his recent TED talk on Emotional First Aid, succinctly described many of my thoughts on the topic of emotional and psychological health. He wondered why we value our bodies but not our minds. In other words, if we get a broken arm, we immediately take steps to tend that injury and we do whatever we need to in order to facilitate the healing of that wound. But when we sustain an emotional or psychological injury, such as loneliness, failure, or rejection, we don’t even acknowledge that these ARE injuries. And yet these things can lead to physical issues and even death, if not tended properly.
The online UK publication, Psychologies, published an article that describes https://www.psychologies.co.uk/self/the-link-between-emotions-and-health.html" target="_blank">the link between our emotions and our physical health. Both negative and positive emotional states have an effect on our physiology, and it’s important to become aware of these facts, so that we can both monitor and regulate our psychological and our physical health.
Because we’re not given an education in emotional regulation, many people have trouble even identifying what emotion they’re feeling at any given time. Once they’re able to detect their emotional state, sometimes they simply don’t have a word to use to describe it to someone else. I often ask my clients to start by turning their attention to the sensations they’re experiencing in their body as an alternative to trying to figure out how to name whatever emotion they’re feeling. If you don’t have a vocabulary for feeling-states, you can at least describe what you’re feeling in your body, which can give you clues about your emotional state. For instance, if you notice that your jaw is tight, or you’re holding your shoulders up by your ears, or your stomach is churning...these are all objective observations that are connected to our psychological experience. For most people, if they’re grinding their teeth, they’re probably experiencing one of the so-called negative emotions, such as anger or frustration.
Once someone begins to be able to identify their emotions, at least as good or bad, then we can start expanding their vocabulary. An excellent tool for this is the Emotional Word Wheel. Starting at the inside and working your way out, you can ask yourself what shade of the feeling category your current emotion is most like.
Now you’re able to identify and name an emotion you’re experiencing, so it’s time to start learning the tools to deal with those emotions and learn from them. A fellow life coach has written a beautifully simple but effective article on his R.A.I.N. approach to processing emotions. “R” stands for “Recognize,” which we’ve actually already covered. By learning to slow down enough to recognize that you are having an emotional reaction to something, and then analyzing it enough to accurately name it, you have taken the first step in processing it. My friend says, “Stopping to ask myself this question interrupts the momentum and drama that's happening in my head; naming it has a tremendous amount of power.”
Next, you must “Accept” that emotion, whatever it is. Accepting that whatever you’re feeling is valid is an important step and keeps you on the path to processing the emotion. The opposite of acceptance is resistance or denial. These would be akin to the suppression of the emotion, which as we’ve already noted, leads to negative consequences, both mental and physical. So let’s try to practice acceptance, and it is certainly a practice, something that we must return to and make an effort at, repeatedly.
The “I” in the R.A.I.N. approach represents “Investigate” and refers to the process involved in tracking down the source or trigger for the emotion, but also includes the physical experience of the emotion. So this step requires both the mind and the body to come online to help you understand your heart. Think about what triggered this emotion and feel the sensations this emotion triggers in your body. My friend’s article goes on: “I stop here, and sit for as long as I can and just bring my awareness to what it feels like. Even thirty seconds of this type of focused awareness can bring a dramatic shift in the energy of the emotion and the hold it has over me. This is simply called "feeling my feelings" and is integral to the process.”
Finally, the “N” represents “non-attachment,” a concept that those of us in the Western world often struggle with. Non-attachment, in this context, is simply the acknowledgment that YOU are not your thoughts. Think about it...who is it that is thinking about how you think? We all have a higher self or a core self that can observe or witness all the thoughts and emotions cascading through our brain and body, and if we can connect with that core self and engage its help, we can step back from the belief that everything our monkey mind comes up with must be true. We can begin to see that our thoughts and our emotions, while helpful, are not the sum total of our experience. We don’t have to identify with every passing whim. If you take some time learning to meditate, you will soon see that your mind will generate all sorts of things to try and distract you, but if you simply sit and breathe, and “watch” the parade of thoughts, you’ll soon learn that “this too shall pass” is a truism.
Learning to breathe slowly and deeply, to gain control over this one aspect of your physical body, will do more by itself than any other technique to help you manage your emotions. Take a yoga or meditation class, or remember the lessons from singing lessons, or look up on the internet how to learn diaphragmatic breathing, and you will be doing yourself a huge favor. Just remember to breathe and practice the RAIN approach the next time you experience some intense emotions and see if these suggestions change your experience, even just a little bit. Small changes can be built upon and amplified with practice, patience, and persistence. Thankfully my mom taught me some relaxation exercises and deep breathing techniques, as well as getting me started on my lifelong love of yoga. Thanks so Mom, I gradually learned to use these things to deal with my own emotionality.