In the last post, I talked about overcoming our brains’ natural tendencies to create the most success for ourselves. I mentioned that we might have to experience pain instead of avoiding it, avoid pleasures instead of seeking them and get out of our comfort zones instead of saving energy by doing what we’re already comfortable with. What this creates in us is a whole lot of emotions.
What exactly is an emotion and where does it come from? Biologically, emotion is just a vibration in your body caused by the release of a chemical. Imagine your brain is a computer. There are hundreds of folders-FEELING FOLDERS. When you have a thought, that thought clicks on the appropriate folder and it opens, flooding your body with specific neurochemicals and hormones that vibrate through you. Your brain then interprets it as excitement or fear or contentment or any number of emotions.
We enjoy feelings like excitement, contentment, confidence, delight, and joy! And I don’t know anyone who really wants to feel fear, boredom, embarrassment, worry or shame. When we start to notice the negative feelings we tend to distract ourselves from them or try to push them away. The thing is though, they are part of life and we are MADE to feel them. They cannot hurt us. When we resist them they actually intensify like a bottle rocket pumped full of pressure that eventually explodes! But when we allow them they just naturally cycle through our bodies the way they were made to. They even have a purpose you guys, did you know?! Emotions are like an alarm system letting us know that something is going on for us and when we acknowledge the alarm, it can shut off.
I think that many of us are so accustomed to trying desperately NOT to feel negative feelings that we aren’t sure where to start in allowing them. Here’s my process.
Step One: Name that emotion!
An emotion is one word, not a sentence. If you’re spouting a sentence (or a paragraph!) about how you feel, then you’re probably identifying the thoughts that are causing your emotion. So, just one word and be as specific as you can. You might be mad but there is a continuum of anger. Are you more annoyed or outraged? Offended or resentful? Angry or irate? The more specific the better!
Step Two: Describe it!
Where do you feel it in your body? Is your head throbbing or light or foggy? Is your jaw clenched? Are your shoulders tight or hunched? Is your stomach nauseated or knotted or fluttery? Are your hands shaking or sweaty? Is your heart floaty or pounding? Really pay attention to what’s going on in your entire body.
If this emotion were a color, what color would it be?
Is it moving fast or slow or it is still?
Give it some more detail. Is it fizzy, slimy, squishy, oozy, pointy, pokey, sharp, dull, throbbing, racing, empty, sinking, rising, rushing, low, high, bouncy, light, dark, heavy, floaty, shakey, hot, icey…?
*At this point I have my kids draw it. If you are a visual person you might want to actually do that! Many of my artsy clients get a lot out of this step!
Step 3: Sit with it and allow it to exist in you.
You might say (out loud or in your head), “Hello, disappointment. I see you there. You are a slow sinking creating heaviness in my chest. You really wanted that and it didn’t happen. Disappointment is a completely normal thing to feel right now and you can stay as long as you need to.” Then just focus on it in your body and intentionally experience what it feels like.
The thing is, by the time I get to step 3 it has usually dissipated a lot and the more I try to feel it, the quicker it disappears!
We somehow get this idea as we’re growing up that we should always feel amazing. I think it starts with the brain’s basic job of avoiding pain, seeking pleasure and saving energy. Then people who love us say things like, “Don’t cry sweetheart!” or “I just want you to be happy!” I’m for sure guilty of saying those things to my kids.
However, we are made to feel ALL of the emotions. They are all a part of life and without the negative feelings, we couldn’t truly appreciate the positive ones. Some of the most useful emotions in creating success don’t actually even feel that great. Determination and courage come to mind. There is definitely an element of uncertainty and fear in both determination and courage. Not exactly fun, but definitely a good thing. So experiment with feeling all of your emotions! What emotion do you notice that you automatically want to push away or ignore? What happens for you when you acknowledge and allow it?