“I have this vision of me drowning in a sea of emotion despite the lifebuoy being in my hand,” she says to me. Have you ever felt that lost, yet knew you had the answers right there within your grip?
We all have experiences that feel like they are just too big for us to survive. Emotions feel so real that they are all consuming, and yet we are not our emotions. We aren’t even our thoughts, really. But they both colour our world view.
We often lose our power to our own emotions and thoughts. Each time we claim we can’t help how we feel or what we think we are denying our ability to control our own mind and feelings. We are being a victim to those thoughts and feelings. We are a victim to ourselves. Those thoughts and feelings are ours, no matter where they stem from, they are ours alone.
It’s not always comfortable to face the reality that we are making ourselves a victim because we are allowing our thoughts and feelings to control us. But that’s no reason to avoid facing reality. In the self-help world we say you can’t fix something you are unaware of. And this is true.
But very often, we are aware of our feelings and thoughts, but we deny our ability to manage them effectively because we don’t want to feel uncomfortable. In other words we are drowning in a sea of emotions with the lifebuoy in your hand . Maybe we are hoping someone else will save us instead. Or maybe we are hoping someone will come along and say to us ‘nah you don’t have to be responsible for how you think and feel, just blame it on to someone else. You’re fine.’
Actually it’s more likely to sound like, ‘you can’t help it, you poor thing. It’s not your fault and surely no one expects you to cope with that.’
Well actually, maybe someone does! Living life in an emotional mess isn’t fun for anyone – not you and not the people who love you and are watching on as you go from one disturbing, unhealthy or destructive experience to the next.
Managing your thoughts and emotions is a life skill. That’s it! It is a skill and that means everyone can learn it. It’s not some difficult, magical, unknown ability that only an elite few have. It is something we can all learn.
What if your emotional sea is anger, rage, resentment, bitterness or incensed injustice? The lifebuoy is learning to sit with the emotion and allowing it to just be.
What does that really mean? If you find yourself consumed with anger or rage, notice the emotion. Anger is a motivating emotion that will want you to act immediately on how you feel by taking action. That action is often in the form of saying nasty words or punching someone. In the long run these are not productive or healthy ways of dealing with anger and hence why many people try to squash feelings of anger because the outcomes don’t lead to a happier life. Instead remove yourself from the situation.
In a quiet place sit down and begin to take deep, slow breaths. Rather than breathing the anger away breathe into the anger and feel it in your body. Feel were it is sitting and feel the pain within it.
This isn’t a comfortable feeling. The first time you try it, you may stop before the emotion evaporates because it is too uncomfortable. That’s okay; just keep on practicing this skill until you can last through the process.
Keep on breathing into the anger, focusing only on the emotion and where it is in your body. You can ask yourself questions about the anger. Why you feel it? What does it relate to? Allow the stories to run through your mind like a movie, seeing the entire contributing factors that have triggered this anger. Sit with it and allow it to just run as you breathe and feel it.
There will come a moment where all the emotion will evaporate of its own accord. It will literally feel like one moment you were bursting with anger and the next you are completely calm. It will feel weird the first time!
But what you have done is honoured the emotion without acting on it and causing more problems. You have controlled your behaviours and allowed the emotion and thoughts and experiences that created the emotion to be observed free of judgement. You have simply allowed yourself to feel the full extent of the emotion. And now it has gone.
This doesn’t mean you will never be angry again! Of course you will be. But you now know you can feel your feelings, no matter how intense they are, and manage them rather than be controlled by them.
Next week I’ll describe the technique for managing emotions like anxiety and fear. In the meantime practice sitting with your emotions. How did it feel?