I know from my own experience that unwanted or difficult emotions can be challenging. They can make you feel out of control, off purpose or simply distressed. Do you have bursts of anger that you later regret? Or do you experience an upwelling of sadness at unexpected moments? Do you find yourself often in emotional turmoil? Perhaps you suspect that your, or your partner’s emotions, are negatively effecting your relationship?
“our emotions can be giving us a valid message”
Sometimes our difficult emotions are because of what is happening right now. They can be helpful and giving us a valid message. Anger can be a sign of frustration with a situation that needs to change. Sadness may be a symptom of chronic depression that requires treatment. Fear may be an appropriate response to threat. In these cases, our emotional response is rightly telling us to act. In relationships we would do well to pay attention to these emotions.
However, quite often our emotions or feelings seem out of proportion to the current situation. Our partner, or friend, does something small and we are highly emotional about it. The level of intensity (charge) suggests we are caught in a ‘pattern’. It is an unconscious response due to the triggering of past events that were too painful or traumatic for us to fully experience them. This triggering process is an attempt by your higher self to release the trapped emotion(s) by fully feeling it now. However they can be unhelpful to our current situation.
“exploding and reacting to our loved ones”
How do we know which is which? It’s important to get it right. We don’t want to be endlessly self-exploring while ignoring the things that need to be said and done in the present moment. For example, analysing past relationships while tolerating your current partner being cruel to you. Nor do we want to be exploding and reacting to our loved ones from a past imprint that has nothing to do with them. Over time this damages the love between you.
First step is to check in with yourself and to see what is coming from your past experiences.
Safety: If you feel you may be very overwhelmed or frightened by traumatic feelings, the practice below is best done with a skilled therapist. Or you can also practice it on an emotion and situation where there is only a very small amount of intensity or charge. If you feel concerned at any point just gently come out of the practice and relax in the here and now.
Step 1. Preparation
Set aside at least 15 minutes. If you are unable to do that when the difficult emotion arises, then make a promise to yourself you will do it later that day. Find a private, safe space where you won’t be interrupted.
Take a few moments to connect with yourself in whatever way you like to do that – breathing, stretching, dancing, meditating. Do whatever works for you.
Step 2. Inner journey
- Identify the difficult emotion and its context as clearly as you can. E.g. my feelings of anger happened when my partner forgot to pay a bill as they promised, or it may have arisen in a work situation, a conflict, or a traumatic incident has occurred, or watching TV news or reading a book has triggered a strong and difficult emotional feeling.
- Now Fully Feel the emotion – get curious. What area of your body does it occupy? Explore how it feels in your body. As you do this, notice any memories or thoughts or images or other sensations that arise. You may like to take notes in your journal, draw pictures or talk into a microphone as you explore the feeling. After a while it will feel like that step is done. Or you will just naturally drop into this next part.
- See if there is anything under that original feeling. Keep exploring with an attitude of curiosity and open-mindedness and compassion for self. Have the intention to drop through that original feeling, as if you were diving deeper into a pool. Trust whatever arises. This may take a short time or a longer time. Again, you may like to take notes or in some way record what you experience or any insights that occur. Treat yourself like you would a beloved who was experiencing this. After a while it will feel like that step is done.
- Relax and come back to yourself. Follow your breath for a few moments, gently stretch or shake your body, or just be. Notice what you are experiencing. Perhaps there is a new spaciousness or a sense of more loving kindness towards yourself. If not, start the process again on what emotions are now there, until you experience any degree of increased spaciousness or compassion. (It’s also ok to take some notes and return to do this at another time.)
- With that spaciousness, you may experience a spontaneous arising of a positive, enjoyable emotion in the place of the unwanted one. If not, imagine an opposite emotions to the one you are working on. If it’s anger you may imagine feeling peaceful, compassionate, happy, loving etc. Or if it’s feeling uncared for you can imagine yourself being nurtured and cherished. Choose what you would like to feel and imagine it flooding your body.
- From this place of spaciousness and positive emotion, or wherever you have arrived at, take your mind back to the original situation and the emotion you felt. Notice how much charge you have now.
- Once you have taken the above steps and felt what you need to feel and what could be under that, you can decide how you want to act, if at all. Magic happens when we are willing to experience our difficult or trapped emotions.
Step 3. Emotions can be sexy!
Once you are feeling less triggered or charged about the emotion and the situation, then you are free to express as needed with yourself, and a partner. You can talk about the current situation and your emotions, and find a solution, or you can play with it, have humour, do an anger dance, be beautifully vulnerable. Emotions can be sexy!