4. This week’s exercises: facing your emotions
Facing difficult emotions
This week we are working on observing and facing our emotions. Our emotions tell us about our needs, and compassionately observing our emotions can help us see our situation and needs more clearly. We often try to ignore unpleasant emotions but observing and facing them can help us to process them, thus making the difficult experience more tolerable.
What do our emotions tell us?
Unpleasant feelings tell us that we need to be alert or beware or that we need to fix a situation. When you are frightened by a fast-approaching car, your fear makes you alert and allows you to give way in good time. Fear, worry or anxiety may arise also in a situation where there is no immediate threat, for instance when you fear or worry that you will not be able to complete studies or find work. At those times, too, our emotions try to guide us to do something about the situation.
Grief tells us that we have lost something important, such as a relationship or a pet. Grief may also be present where the loss is not tangible, for instance, if we have not gained admission to study our dream subject or have been forced to give up our plans about something. Grief signals a need to redirect ourselves towards the future.
Guilt tells us that we have somehow acted wrong and feel a need to rectify the situation. We may have left something undone that we had agreed to do or we may have been unkind to another person. Guilt makes us think about means of rectifying the situation.
Feeling ashamed may tell us that we think other people do not approve of us. We may feel shame, for example, when we think we have failed, when our academic performance has been weak, when we have had difficulty getting a job or difficulties in personal relationships, or have experienced that our looks or other characteristics are somehow flawed. Shame communicates a need to change our actions towards something more acceptable. Shame can also be brought on by things we cannot influence.Emotions do not necessarily relate to the situation at hand. A feeling of inadequacy or shame may stem from previous experiences in life.
Facing your emotions
If facing your emotions seems difficult, you may approach them little by little. First try to only observe that you are experiencing an unpleasant emotion. Are you able to work up an interest in it, so you can think: ‘I wonder what this unpleasant feeling is?’ Next, you may be able to name the emotion. Is it anger, grief, fear, frustration or shame? After this, you can examine the emotion in more detail and observe what sensations the feeling evokes in your body.
When you start to get familiar with the feeling and observing it seems tolerable, you may let the emotion be as it is. Maybe the emotion fluctuates, getting sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker. Little by little, you may recognise what your emotion is trying to tell you about your needs. Or you may note that this unpleasant feeling is also a part of life. You may notice that at some point the emotion has receded or become less prominent.
This week’s exercises are:
- Self-Compassion Break (audio) You can do this exercise when you face difficult situations or emotions.
Self-Compassion Break by Kristin Neff (audio)
- Handling Anger (audio) You can use this exercise to process your feelings of
anger and irritation after a situation.
Continue also doing the exercises you learnt earlier so that you get about 30 minutes of exercise per day.
Once you’ve completed the exercise, you can ponder the following:
1. How did you use to handle difficult emotions?
2. Facing difficult emotions is difficult. However, you do not have to run away from them. By facing your emotions and experiencing them, you can gain power to direct yourself towards future actions that are in line with your values. When you are faced with a tough situation, how might you remind yourself of the exercises you have done in the previous weeks and of the importance of facing your emotions?