How to deal with difficult emotions

Here’s an exercise I recommend, that takes just 5 to 10 minutes to complete:

Step 1. Sit or lie down, with your eyes open or closed, and focus on breathing deeply as you call to mind a difficult emotion you experienced recently.

It may be anger, greed, jealousy, fear, grief, or anything similar.

Step 2. Notice and reflect, for a couple of minutes, how you feel about this emotion.

Are you uncomfortable? Do you dislike it? Do you wish you could have prevented it from arising? Do you feel ashamed, or consider yourself wrong, for having this difficult feeling?

Step 3. Spend at least a minute observing what happens when you translate this emotion to a state of pain and suffering.

How does this state make you feel? How does your body react to it? Does it feel overwhelming? Is it something you want to avoid?

Step 4. Now, for at least 2 minutes, if not more, take that pain and suffering and observe it being held and surrounded by a sea of kindness and compassion. 

If any uncomfortable thoughts or feelings about having this emotion come up, notice them for a moment, and then return your attention back to the ever-flowing sea of kindness and compassion.

What does this feel like in your body? How does your body feel differently about this difficult emotion now?

This short exercise forms part of a scientifically proven program that can be used in combination with journaling and sharing how you are feeling with another, whenever difficult emotions arise.

Well worth understanding, too, a couple of the reasons why this exercise works:

  1. Unlike other strategies you may use (such as trying not to think about it, or avoiding the situation where the feeling comes up), it does not try to control the arrival of these difficult feelings.

We must remember that difficult feelings arise naturally, in all of us, as certain events unfold in our life. Judging them, or ourselves, is unhelpful. Avoiding them is impossible.

Indeed, I believe most difficult emotions are actually pre-requisites for experiencing more joy, growth and expansion in our lives.

  1. It teaches you that you don’t need to be overcome by, defined by, fall into, act from, or avoid any difficult emotion.

Because whilst you cannot prevent them from arising, you can commit to recognising them, having kindness and compassion for them, and letting their hold over you go.

No, you can’t always choose how you feel.

But yes, you can always question how you choose to feel about how you feel.

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