5 Steps to Confront Difficult Emotions

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We wash our cars and clean out our closets. We tidy and we declutter. We can do a food fast to cleanse or lose 20 pounds. But how can we “clean, clear and cleanse” difficult emotions?

Why do we struggle so much with difficult emotions? A big part of the reason is that we don’t address them or give them enough attention.  As humans we are wired to feel happiness, joy, excitement, peace and tranquility, but we are also wired to feel anger, frustration, sadness, loneliness and so on. We have become experts at attracting to the former and distracting from the latter. We divert our attention by obsessively cleaning, shopping, exercising, gambling, working, drinking, using drugs, and so much more. We need to become content at feeling uncomfortable emotions. When we give uncomfortable emotions our attention, we can feel them and heal them. I sometimes liken this to opening up a dark and dusty attic to the brilliant rays of the bright, illuminating sunlight. In doing so, we cast the light of our attention onto our deepest emotions. The light of our attention has a transformative effect.

How do you start to become comfortable with feeling your emotions? How do you meet them rather than creating a constant stream of distractions to avoid them? Here are 5 steps to mindfully deal with difficult emotions.

Step 1.     Allow your emotions to arise with acceptance. Let the emotion come up. You might even feel it in your body in the form of chest tightness or a stomachache. Do not push the emotion away. Just listen to the emotion, non-judgmentally, and see what it has to say.

Step 2.     Identify the emotion. Instead of saying “I am angry”, say “this is what anger feels like.” Instead of saying “I am anxious”, say “this is what anxiety feels like.” This step will allow you to begin to detach from the emotion and become an observer of it rather than as a prisoner to it.

Step 3.     Realize the impermanence of your emotion. Every emotion is impermanent. It is very easy to forget this when you’re feeling deep sadness, anger or other uncomfortable emotions. Remember, the mind is like a clear blue sky and our emotions are like clouds floating along it, sometimes dark and heavy, but always impermanent.

Step 4.     Explore the triggers surrounding the difficult emotion. After you have soothed yourself from the painful emotion, take a few moments to explore what triggered the emotion. Identifying your triggers is a critical step in working with and healing many of your prolonged traumas.

Step 5.     Do not resist your emotions. There is a saying, “what we resist, persists.” Allow yourself to feel the emotions and experience them. When we cut off from feeling our emotions, we become numb to life.  We may numb out the frustration, anger, and sadness, but in doing so we deaden the peace, joy, excitement, and pure magic of life itself.