More often than not emotions (aka ‘feelings’) can seem complicated; uncomfortable, even painful. Many of us avoid emotions like a burnt espresso. Not only can emotions appear uncomfortable, they require their own language. Depending on how you were raised, the people you’ve spent time with and what you’ve been exposed to, you may not have had much experience with the language of emotions. “How do I even talk about how I feel?”
Within relationships, be it intimate or social we find varying degrees of emotional discussion. Have you ever found yourself in the presence of someone who expresses their feelings and emotional experiences? Do you wish you had your own emotional voice or do you find it confronting and want to run in the opposite direction? Well known author and research professor Brenē Brown writes about standing at the shores of our emotional ‘swamp’:
‘What I’m proposing is that we learn how to wade through it. We need to see that standing on the shore and catastrophizing about what could happen if we talked honestly about our fears is actually more painful than grabbing the hand of a trusted companion and crossing the swamp’ (Brown, Brenē (2010) The Gifts of Imperfection, USA, Hazelden Publishing pg 36).
Perhaps after many chats with yourself listing the various reasons as to why it’s best not to ‘do emotions’ (aka ‘feel’), and boy the story can become quite elaborate, you’ve chosen to just ‘get on with it’, and to ‘keep going’. It’s more comfortable and less challenging, right? Wrong.
Your internal network
Your feelings are an integral part of your experiences in daily life. In fact emotions have been found to be intricately connected to your brain through your Limbic System (your brain’s emotional centre), your hormones that create change physically, emotionally and mentally, and your gut – bringing more meaning than ever to the phrase ‘gut instinct’.
If you find yourself erring on the side of caution when it comes to tapping into your feelings, know that you’re not alone. Apart from feeling uncomfortable or out of your depths, one of the main reasons people deny their emotions is because they don’t know what to do with them. Your mind can start to over-complicate the process as a way of protecting you or as a coping mechanism for avoidance… keep busy, talk about surface issues, walk away…
Let me simplify emotions for you, and in one simple process change how you experience life and how much you get out of it. Remember, emotions don’t just include anger, resentment, shame or sadness – they also include joy, passion, wonder and peace.
Emotions are just like dogs
The best analogy to describe emotions and how to release them with ease are dogs! If you’ve ever owned a dog, you’ll know exactly what I’m about to describe. When you come home and walk through the door with armfuls of groceries, and before you have a chance to put them down your dog jumps up, running around your feet eagerly barking “look at me, pay attention to me, play with me, pat me, pat me, pat me!” It’s relentless. The fact that your arms are full is irrelevant. However, once you finally turn to your dog and give them a pat or cuddle, only then do they relax. Your dog has been seen, validated. Emotions are just like dogs – jumping around in the body calling out to be noticed. Once you ACKNOWLEDGE an EMOTION, it relaxes and begins to RELEASE. Emotions just want to be seen, be validated.
Validating emotions is validating YOU
When you deny your feelings, you deny your experiences and others may do the same. How many times have you felt that others have not valued something you’ve been through? If you shrug off an unpleasant or even hurtful experience as being ‘OK’ then it’s easy to see that people around you will think you’re OK too. When in fact sadness is weighing heavily in your heart. This heaviness will be carried until you acknowledge its presence, just like the dog. We all look for validation and the most important source is YOURSELF.
Steps for releasing emotions
Let’s discard any ideas of over-thinking and over-complicating emotions. This technique is so simple, you’ll wonder why you’ve never tried in the first place.
Step one: Find a quiet space, close your eyes and simply sit with your emotions. Allow yourself to look within and see if you can feel, hear or see an emotion. There is no need to go into the story of the emotion. Simply sit with the feeling.
Step two: Sense where the emotion is sitting within your body, for example: is it in your heart space, your tummy or your head?
Step three: If the emotion has an intensity about it, breathe into this area of your body. With each exhalation, release the feeling (this may include associated memories, visions, sounds, touches, smells and tastes) through your breath.
As you find an emotion, acknowledge it: “Hello sadness”. Sadness will feel validated and within this most simple and profound step, the emotion will begin to release. You’ll feel the intensity step down a notch. The emotion may even release entirely in one sitting. From here, it’s much easier to learn to then express how we feel to others.
For those who would like to venture further, once you’ve found an emotion ask yourself what’s underneath it. Often there’ll be another layer of emotion. For example, underneath feelings such as anger is often hurt, sadness or embarrassment.
Tonight as you lie in bed before you fall asleep, look within. You might find this whole ‘feelings’ thing ain’t so hard.