Life tends to challenge us and insist we deal with uncomfortable feelings. Turns out, we have five ways to cope (and we’d highly recommend two of them).
Life unfolds, and we experience it. That’s just about all that’s happening in life.
Our experience of life is sometimes pleasurable. And that’s great. Other times, life unfolds in a painful way and that stirs up powerful emotions within us. We might feel angry if someone lies to us or crosses a boundary we’ve set. We might feel sad or lonely if a relationship ends. We might feel scared and stressed about our future if we lose our jobs. The examples are endless.
Most of us have seen the bumper sticker that says, “Sh** Happens.” Well, that’s a bit crass, but we know it’s true, don’t we? What we don’t know, however, is what to do when “Life Happens.” In this article, I want to talk about what to do when you’re an emotional wreck.
Below is a description of five ways to be with powerful emotions—but let me first say that this topic, Emotional Intelligence, is a huge one and there’s no way I can do it justice in a short article like this. My goal is to point you toward the healthiest and most effective ways to handle your emotions. Because of the format, you might be left with a lot of questions. If that happens, please reach out to me. My contact info is at the bottom of the article.
The first way to be with emotions like anger, anxiety, sadness, betrayal, loneliness, boredom, stress, etc., is to numb ourselves out. And all of us have our favorite form of “Novocain,” don’t we? For some it’s food (it’s not called ‘comfort food’ for nothing!), for others it’s alcohol or drugs. For others it’s shopping, porn, or even exercise. The purpose of almost every addiction is to numb us out and help us escape painful emotions.
However, medicating our feelings is not the only way we numb-out. Distraction is another numbing-out strategy, and this is where our digital devices come in. Our phones, computers and TVs are mostly used to distract us from our experience. You don’t believe me? Try turning off all your devices and sitting alone in a room all by yourself for 10 minutes. My guess is a lot of uncomfortable thoughts and feelings will surface and you’ll soon be grabbing a glass of wine, a bag of potato chips, or your phone.
Medicating and distracting ourselves from our feelings are the most common ways we numb ourselves out and it has disastrous effects on our bodies (emotional eating makes us fat), on our relationships (if we can’t be with our feelings, how can we be with another’s?) and our very souls (we abandon ourselves when we choose to numb out).
If you want to become more emotionally intelligent, it begins by being honest about your favorite numbing-out strategies.
The second way to be with uncomfortable feelings is to suppress them. We choose this strategy because we’re scared. Of what? Of ourselves and others. We believe if we were to fully face and feel our feelings, they would overwhelm us and we’d become some sort of basket case—but you’ll find the opposite is actually true. It’s suppression that will make you a basket case. Owning and feeling your feelings never does.
Another reason we suppress is we believe that if we were to reveal ourselves to others, we’d be judged or even punished. This is understandable since many of us grew up in lousy families or have had lousy friends or partners; but we need to get over our pasts. If necessary, we need to find new friends, or maybe even a new partner. You must surround yourself with safe people and rid yourself of toxic people. That’s your responsibility.
Suppression also ruins any chance at healthy intimacy. In the book of Genesis, Adam and Eve, the first mythical couple, were said to be “naked and unashamed.” That doesn’t mean they didn’t have clothes, it means nothing was hidden, covered, concealed, or suppressed. They were completely known and revealed to one another. That’s intimacy.
The final point to be made about suppression is that it eventually backfires because of the “Volcano Principle.” If you suppress long enough, the pressure will build and eventually you’ll explode. Not good.
The third way to be with uncomfortable feelings is to express them—and even though expression is better than suppression, (we’re evolving from worst to best) it’s not that much better because most people don’t know how to express their feelings in a healthy, conscious way.
You can express your feelings in a way that creates connection, understanding, and harmony, or you can express your feelings in a way that creates drama, discord, and divisiveness.
For most people, expression actually means venting or dumping. “I have the right to give you a piece of my mind and I’m going to do it!” They vent or dump their feelings on others, and usually what’s said is filled with blame, criticism, and judgment. Yes, you’re expressing, but you’re expressing your garbage! And that just creates drama and arguments. It goes nowhere.
But there are ways to express what you feel without making other people wrong or blaming them. It’s called “speaking unarguably,” and it’s a skill that must be developed if you want any chance at a healthy, lasting relationship.
Now, a full-blown discussion of healthy communication is beyond the scope of this article, so reach out to me if you need to learn how to do this. Until then, though, you’re better off suppressing your feelings if you don’t know how to speak unarguably—no one needs your garbage dumped on them.
4. Feel Your Feelings
With this fourth way, we finally start talking about the healthy ways to be with uncomfortable feelings. The fourth way is to feel our feelings, which means to welcome them into our awareness and not run from them (as we do when we numb, suppress, or dump).
After all, they are our feelings and they should be valued, honored—and actually felt. How do you do that? Well, first you LABEL it. Do you feel angry, sad, or scared? Name it. Next, you LOCATE where the feeling is showing up in your body. Do you feel sensations in your neck, chest, stomach, and what is the nature of those sensations? Is there tightness, pressure, queasiness? Labeling and locating are the beginning steps to feeling a feeling and these two steps take no more than five seconds to do.
The third step is LOVE the feeling, and this has three steps itself.
First, send your breath directly to the location of the emotion. If you’re scared and there’s a knot in your stomach, send your breath to the knot. It’s a way of loving and welcoming your feeling, and just doing that might release it. Second, since emotion is just trapped energy in the body, move your body to release the “e-motion.” In other words, express the emotion physically. If you’re angry, pound on a pillow. If you’re sad, let your self cry. If you’re scared, curl up in a ball and shiver in fear. Third, use sound (not words) to release the emotion. Ask the emotion, “if you could make a sound, what would it be?”
These are the basics to being emotional intelligent. Label, Locate, and Love your feelings, and in doing so, you will feel the energy shift. However, if you numb, suppress, and express, you may feel better for a while, but the feelings will recycle and pop back up like a trick birthday candle that you can’t blow out.
The fifth way to be with uncomfortable feelings is to transcend them. This is the most evolved way of being with uncomfortable feelings, and it does not mean to deny, suppress, or dismiss your feelings. It means to feel your feelings fully, as we just learned, but it means to build on that by changing our basic response to what causes our emotions in the first place.
Remember, we began this article by saying “life unfolds, and we experience it.” And if that’s all that happens, there’s never a problem. (Think about that. It’s mind-blowing.) But our minds jump in and say, “this should not be happening,” or “I don’t like this,” or “I want it (or him or her) to be different.”
What we’re doing is resisting reality and our experience of it. If you look very closely, that’s where the emotions come from. They come from our resistance to reality, as well as the stories we tell about how life (i.e., circumstances, conditions, people) should or shouldn’t be. In other words, feelings are stories—or, feelings come from stories.
To transcend means to go beyond a resistance mindset. It means to stop arguing with and judging the event or person that is causing our emotional upset. Furthermore, it means to fully surrender to reality, to what’s happening. The great Indian spiritual teacher, J. Krishnamurti, when asked to describe his enlightenment said, “I don’t mind what happens.” Think about that: If you don’t mind what happens, where would emotion come from? Wouldn’t you always be at peace?
Now, this is very deep teaching and I don’t expect you to be able to get your head around it from a short article like this, so put your attention on Step #4: Feeling Your Feelings. Practice that whenever an uncomfortable feeling arises and see what happens. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you can shift from upset to peace. And again, reach out to me if you want to go deeper into this subject.
About the Author
Roy Biancalana is a certified relationship coach, a TV personality, and the author of two books, the latest of which is the #1 best-seller, Attracting Lasting Love: Breaking Free of the 7 Barriers that Keep You Single. For the past 10 years, Roy’s mission has been supporting single people in the art of attracting and creating conscious, lasting relationships. He offers a complimentary 30-minute coaching session to anyone interested in working with him. You can learn more about him by visiting CoachingwithRoy.com