Have you ever wondered why when we feel (or may feel) good emotions like happiness, fun and joy, we have no problem jumping into the experience and going for the ride. However, when we feel (or may feel) bad emotions, we stop, retreat, hide, or distract ourselves do avoid every possibility of being taken for the ride?
I’ve been really thinking about this recently, but not in the way I typically have in the past.
You see, a few years ago I wrote a book on how we can use perceived pleasure and pain to motivate us to move in a certain direction. This was an excellent tool, especially for myself at the time as I was focused on achievement.
But nowadays, as I become aware of the fleeting excitement of chasing after ‘the next best thing’ I’ve become more interested in the idea of human connection, both with one’s self and others. In this regards, the idea of avoiding pain and seeking pleasure for motivation is actually very detrimental. What this strategy does is keeps you only experiencing some of the emotions that you have been given the opportunity to experience in life. When faced with a challenge, quickly trying to change your perspective, or distracting yourself by staying busy with other things, may seemingly move your forward on the surface, but in fact just keeps you experiencing the same patterns of negative emotions (that you never took the time to deal with) in other forms of future experiences.
For example, if you ‘lose’ someone from your life, either though physical death or a change in relationship alignment, it might be tempting to quickly move past the negative emotions associated with the experience by trying to find someone/something else to fill their place or change your perspective asap so you can se the whole situation in a positive light. While you might feel ‘better’, faster, you are also not giving those negative emotions the proper attention or outlet to fully manifest themselves out of you. This will lead to a suppression of those emotions, which will then manifest themselves in similar future experience or potentially even personal disease (dis-ease).
In other words, if you want to to create more positive patterns of experience, you need to work through your negative emotions just as you would easily and mindlessly follow the positive ones.
At this point, you’re probably wondering – “How?”
It’s a tough question that I too am still exploring the answer too. However, here is an interesting process I’ve started to become aware of…
1) Avoidance – The first thing you want to become aware of in order to work through negative emotions is to notice yourself resisting them from being present (i.e. the unwillingness in letting the emotions take root as an acceptable conscious experience). This can come in many forms, some of the most notable being — an ego-driven urge to find more positive things to stay focused on; the relentless will to change your perspective on the situation so you no longer trigger the negative emotions; a subconscious belief that you need to ‘keep it together’ and not let out the emotions that are furiously raging their way through you.
- Talk to others – Many times other consciously-minded people will be able to help you identify the areas of your life you a resisting pain just by what you talk about and how you say things. Obviously, don’t let them dictate what your problem really is, just be open to the idea that they may see things that your ego is currently keeping out of sight from your own awareness.
- Meditate on pain in your body – While doing a meditation with a friend recently she told me that during the session, when she focused on the aches in her knees, she was gifted with the insight that it represented her fear to move forward in life. It was amazing to witness what she had observed and taught me a lot about using our bodily sensations as a way to gauge where negative emotions are pent up and not flowing correctly.
2) Acceptance – At some point, often times when you are unable to distract yourself or suppress the feeling any longer, you come to accept that they are there. The biggest thing I’ve learned is to not wait for the tipping point. As soon as you notice yourself avoiding the negative emotions (stage 1), consciously choose to move through this process instead of waiting for the universe to lay the smack down on you. Just say to yourself simple statements that acknowledge the emotion as a present-moment experience. You could say “I’m sad, and it sucks.” Or “I really don’t like what’s happening to me and I have no idea how to change it.” In other words, you are basically just ‘calling it as it is’. You stop trying to bluff yourself out of it and just accept that the negative emotions are there and won’t go away until you consciously deal with them.
- Stop, talk, smile and nod – When you catch yourself avoiding a negative emotion, just stop wherever you are and whatever you are doing, point out the negative emotion (or circumstance causing it) by saying it out loud, smile that you’ve accepted that is your current reality, and nod that you are ok with having it be there. While this may sound silly, the physical feedback of acceptance will allow you to really solidify it mentally and prevent your ego from being able to play mind tricks on you so that you fall back into distractions and ‘busy-ness’.
- Do a repetition meditation – Basically this is getting into a meditative state and reaffirming over and over again out loud the acceptance statement that allows you to finally accept the negative emotion. The more you say, the more familiar it becomes and the more your mind will believe it.
3) Expression – This is the stage is where the magic takes place! The conscious expression of a negative emotion acts as an outlet for it to leave your reality through tangible experience of that emotion. When we don’t do this consciously, what happens is we keep suppressing the emotion until it eventually overflows within us and unconsciously is spewed out, often hurting others around us (think of a cup that can only hold so much water before it start to overflow over the edges).
Expression comes in many forms, and we all have our own ways of doing it. I would love for anyone who has a great method of expression to share it in the comments section below. For myself, here are some of the methods I’ve found to be very beneficial for me…
- Emotional release meditation – While in a meditative state, tap into the negative emotion that feels most strongest and most relevant to you in that moment and intentionally fuel it until it begins to manifest itself. For example, you might start to think of all the things that hurt you from that person that ‘left’ your life until you reach a point where you break down crying. Allow yourself to fully express that emotion until it no longer feels like it’s there. The key to this working is to use your thoughts to fuel the emotion once you trigger it. In other words, after you trigger crying by thinking of the person you ‘lost’, start to think of other things that make you sad about your life and continue to cry through those thoughts. Again what we’re doing here is giving yourself to express the negative emotions just as you would easily be excited by someone who unexpectedly entered your life (like the birth of a child or a new connection that makes you really happy).
- Conscious, considerate conversations – Another technique, that can be a bit more difficult than the one mentioned above, is having a really open and honest convo with the other person that may be the source of these negative emotions. This takes a lot of practice since you always want to strive to be true to yourself in what you share, while also being respectful and considerate in how they interpret it (I have been learning a lot recently on this front and am actually dreaming up a new book for 2018 that dives into the strategies we can use for honest communication). While much more complex, the overarching key to this tactic is to almost talk to the person in a way in which you are analyzing yourself, rather than expressing your perceived judgement of them. For example, you may say “When I think about what I’m feeling right now, all I can feel is hurt. I know that this might not have been your intention, but this is the reality that I can’t help but see right now. It feels like you _____(whatever you think they did)___ and that pain is something I find difficult to cope with and am worried may continue to affect my future relationships.” Notice how different that is then “You’re a horrible person. All you want to do is hurt me and now that you did you’re proud of it. I hate you.” These type of conversations aren’t easy, but they do become easier as you learn how to have them. You WILL make mistakes, but don’t let them keep your from continuing to practice. Just stay in a state of vulnerability and don’t let your ego hijack the conversation. If you need to set boundaries with the other person, do so. Maybe those boundaries are to stop immediately and breath if either of you notice voices escalating, or perhaps you may want to postpone the convo is the person receiving the feedback is being triggered.
- Write a journal entry – If meditation aint your jam and you don’t have what it takes to talk about this with the other person, try taking your thoughts and putting them in writing. The best way I’ve found to do this is to write a letter to the person who is the source of the negative emotions, or a letter to yourself if it’s a circumstance that is driving them. In this letter, just let your writing be a free-flow expression of your thoughts unfiltered. You can always go back and make sense of what you wrote, the key is to GET IT OUT so that isn’t supressed within you. This method is especially helpful for situations in which you might not be able to talk to the other person. One thing to keep in mind, is you want to strive to write in a way that is still conscious and considerate of them. This means to try to focus on a thoughtful letter rather than a scathing one. While at times scathing ones might be necessary as an expression, if always done this way you will continually allow that emotion to run you instead of being a vehicle for it to move through you.
*The biggest thing to keep in mind at this stage is to GET IT OUT!!! Don’t let the emotion stay hidden within you. Bring light to the darkness. At the same time, be considerate as possible of others. Remember that they may not see the full picture you have built and it may take time for them to do so.
4) Action – Once you’ve found ‘relief’ from the negative emotion, now it’s time to take action on the interests and excitement you exposed in the process. I’ve found that every time I’ve worked through a negative emotion, a positive emotion channels through me that I easily and organically express. What’s cool is that if you follow this process, you usually don’t have to ‘force’ yourself to take action on things that change your perspective. Your perspective will naturally change since there is no longer a pull from the negative emotion, which has now been expressed out of you.
One final note…
The most beautiful part of this whole process of working through negative emotions is the empathy it builds. When you know struggle for yourself, you can relate to others who are also struggling. However, if you’ve always avoided it, you can’t properly relate to someone who is no longer able to avoid it. Through empathy is where we find our value, since when we can help people at their core, they are able to become better because of very existence.