Today I want to talk about allowing painful emotions, because, let’s face it – even if you are not in a divorce battle, you will experience uncomfortable feelings about 50% of the time. For those in a divorce battle, you may be subject to more than the average 50/50 ratio with a surplus of fear, anxiety, devastation, anger, and frustration.
I sense a lot of resistance to experiencing painful emotions from my clients. They believe when they are feeling pain, or when their children are feeling pain, that something has gone wrong.
Like all feelings, a painful emotion is caused by a thought that you are having. It is not caused by a circumstance, such as what someone else has said or done. It is caused by what you are making that circumstance mean to you.
This thought in your brain creates a chemical reaction in the body. This release of chemicals cause a vibration which is that painful feeling. It is great if you can name the feeling. Is it disappointment, rage, panic, overwhelm? You may be inclined to push it away or resist it, but today I want to show you the merit of allowing painful emotions.
Allowing uncomfortable feelings
Painful emotions are not dangerous. The feeling is not a problem that you have to solve. When you resist uncomfortable emotions, it is a lot like trying to build a dam against flooding water. Eventually the feeling will break the barrier and come rushing back. When you make the brave choice to experience the feeling all the way through, you will see that it is manageable and can do no long term harm.
There is really no reason to “white knuckle” it and push painful emotion away. There is no need to distract yourself with food and drink. The experience of allowing an uncomfortable feeling to wash over you is actually much easier than avoiding and resisting it. If you allow yourself to experience and feel your feelings, they will eventually pass through you like a wave. It will also allow you to start to gain some leverage over the way you are thinking about the circumstance.
By closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths, you can settle in and accept the uncomfortable emotion that you are experiencing. Describe what you are feeling in your body. Identify where in your body your can feel it and try to characterize it with descriptions of size, shape, colour, texture to really become a witness to it. Just by becoming “the Watcher” you can gain some space around the painful emotion. See if you can name it.
Allow the painful vibration to be present as you go about your daily tasks. Notice it’s heaviness and ability to take your breath away. It may help to say to yourself “This is a feeling of hurt/grief/anger/fear. This is part of my journey”.
Uncover the thought creating that painful emotion
Once the emotion is being allowed and processed, you are in a position to start to become aware of the thoughts in your mind. There may be many of them. Write them down as they appear. Some of these thoughts will appear innocent but are actually evoking very painful emotions. Thoughts like:
- I deserve better
- she is a liar
- he shouldn’t behave that way
- that was so cruel
There is no need to rush to change the thought. Just become aware of the thoughts that are creating your emotion. If you are fine to feel any feeling there is no need to urgently “thought swap”. That is a sign that you are becoming emotionally resilient.
Question the thought creating the painful emotion
I love to ask my clients why they believe their thoughts. Quite often these thoughts are just habitual and have never been questioned. A thought is not a fact and is not true. It is just an opinion or an interpretation about something that has occurred.
Every thought that we have is optional. That doesn’t mean your brain won’t offer it up on the regular. It just means that you can choose if you still want to believe that thought. This is where all of your agency lies.
Over time you may want to find space around your old thoughts and beliefs. You may even want to consider some new thoughts such as:
- this is happening for me
- nothing has gone wrong here (my FAVOURITE thought)
- I have much to learn here
- other people can be who they are
A rich life has both positive and negative emotions. Without painful feelings there are no joyful feelings. The contrast is by design, and I invite you to be open to all of it.
Emotional resilience means you are comfortable with being uncomfortable. It means you are okay with allowing painful emotions because you know it will not harm you. This will enable you to access the thoughts creating these emotions and decide if they are still serving you.