No one teaches us this.
At least not clearly.
That’s why I’m going to do my best to teach you how to do it. (Not gonna lie, it’s a tough process to explain, so let me know in the comments if it makes sense or if you have any questions!)
From the time you were little, you were probably bombarded with messages about your emotions: from your parents and grandparents, to your teachers and the bully on the playground. If you’re like me, you learned that having emotions, especially negative ones, was no bueno.
“That’s so silly to cry about. ” “Stop being ridiculous and eat your banana.” “You need to be kind; stop yelling!” “Oh, come on. It’s not that bad.”
Even when these messages came from well-meaning parents, we all probably have had times in our lives when we have felt like Elsa from Frozen (“Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know…”). I’m sure most of our parents and teachers absolutely did the best that they knew how, and the school bully was probably hurting more than we would ever know. But the problem is that many of us grew up either trying to hide or deny our emotions, or we didn’t learn how to express them healthily. I call these types of behaviors resisting emotion.
Instead of allowing them, we bottle them up, try to ignore them, or let them out explosively. I heard an analogy once that it’s like trying to hold a beach ball under the water. You can do it successfully for a minute but then it explodes back up out of the water. What we WANT to do is called processing our emotions.
Instead of holding down the proverbial beach ball, we just let it float gently on top of the water. So, when you’re feeling angry, for instance, just allow the anger. Lean into it. What do I mean? Instead of focusing on thoughts like, “I’m so angry at (insert person, situation, etc.)!! It shouldn’t be this way! They shouldn’t be that way! I can’t BELIEVE them! I can’t BELIEVE THIS!” (or just straight up try to ignore the anger/pretend you’re not feeling it), you try to redirect your thoughts to things like, “I’m feeling angry right now. This is what anger feels like for me. I feel it in my face–like someone is squeezing it really tightly. I feel it in my shoulders as they scrunch up next to my ears.” And then you will experience immediate relief. I PROMISE. It might be only a little bit of relief, or you might find that it’s a HUGE relief. But either way, it allows you to still have and experience the emotion, but not act out on it in a hurtful way (yelling at another person, throwing something, etc.) Here’s another thing that I didn’t know before I started studying this: emotions are just a chemical reaction in our bodies. That’s it. So we’re just allowing the reaction to go through our bodies without adding a bunch of painful meaning to it. Then the feeling will probably rise up again, like a wave, but just repeat the process. That beach ball will ride the waves, but it will go gently up and down instead of exploding upwards. I always find it helpful to do something tactile while processing emotions, like coloring or cleaning, or writing my feelings out on paper.
So that’s the basic process. Let me tell you a little bit about WHY it’s so important. I’m willing to bet that most of the emotional pain you’re feeling in your life right now is coming from resisting negative emotion. Something happens and your thoughts about it cause you to feel sad. Then you might have other thoughts like, “Why am I feeling sad? I should be grateful. I have a great life, nothing’s going terribly wrong. This is just stupid.” Those thoughts just make it worse because now you’re beating yourself up for feeling sad, instead of just ALLOWING yourself to feel sadness and then moving on. A lot of that over time adds up to a lot of emotional outbursts, subjugation of our true selves, and a crapload of unnecessary emotional pain.
Life is full of ups and downs. It’s supposed to be like that. We can’t argue with that reality. Every single solitary person in this world will have high times and low times. So the next time something less than desirable happens to you, and your emotions come up, don’t resist them. Try to allow them and listen to them. Be curious about them. Write about them. Get to the bottom of it and really listen to yourself, like you would a good friend. We’re not going to be happy/successful 100% of the time, and knowing that plus knowing how to process the hard things in life will help us avoid the extra pain we’re putting on ourselves. You’ve got this friend. And it’s okay to feel aaaalll the feels.