Have you ever felt uncomfortable when faced with your emotions? You’re not alone. In fact, I recently dealt with this experience myself. I was forced to face a powerful emotional response during a Gestalt exercise in a class I was taking. The emotions I felt were so overwhelming that I couldn’t focus on anything else. As I worked through the crashing waves I was feeling, I learned quite a bit about how to tackle challenging emotions, and I’d like to help you do the same.
Ask Yourself What You Need
When we’re dealing with intense emotions, it can be overwhelming. It can even interfere with day to day life if you don’t take care of yourself. One of the best things you can do for yourself is ask: “what do I need?” Be honest, and listen to your responses. When I did this, I was surprised to hear myself respond with the need for love and affection.
Acknowledging the need for love can be difficult for many of us. Being able to do this for myself still brings tears to my eyes, tightens my throat and tenders my heart. During my experience, I was dealing with so much fear that I couldn’t understand or conceptualize. I was instinctively trying to soothe and protect myself.
Take Care of Yourself
Navigating the discomfort you feel when experiencing emotions such as fear is crucial for healing. The emotional exertion is so physically exhausting that you’ll need to take extra care of yourself while you heal. Some of the ways to do so include:
- Reaching out to your support system
- Spending time with loved ones
- Doing activities you enjoy
- Resting when you need it
For me, caring for myself took the form of spending time with friends, going to the rock climbing gym, cuddling with my cats and being held by my partner. Doing the things I enjoy helped me put my fear to the side and feel like myself again. The more I did this, the more I was able to engage with the emotions for longer periods and “befriend” them. I wasn’t afraid anymore.
Befriend Your Emotions
After you’ve given yourself time to rest and recharge, it’s time to face those emotions head on. Sometimes the key is taking a step back, and letting yourself get some distance before you dive into your fear. That way, you can “befriend” your emotions instead of fearing them.
I was forced into a place so vast and vulnerable that the only thing I could do was acknowledge the unknown, observe my discomfort and experience it with compassion. With compassion I allowed myself to “touch” into the fear and allow myself to “go” when it became too intense.
When you start to feel overwhelmed by the emotions, it’s completely alright to put them to the side. I was able to do this, and acknowledged that I would come back to them later with my full attention and befriend them.
In A Path With Heart, Kornfield (1993) believes “it is important to honor our vulnerability and recognize that we each need a trusting situation in which to work with the deepest feelings that will arise in us.”
That brings us back to how I answered “what do I need?” I needed trust and love to open myself up to my pain and fear. Giving myself love allowed me to have a deeper understanding of my emotional feelings and thoughts. I learned a lot about myself through the process.
Sitting with my feelings of sadness and fear, I discovered some “personal myths” that unconsciously drive my relationship to the world. Listening to my body and treating my experience with compassion I heard from myself in a profound, authentic way.
As Lief (2002) explains, what I heard from myself was “based on being open to new information, gathering knowledge, and really trying to listen.”
Facing the forces of my fear and sadness, I opened to the “wisdom and fearlessness beyond these forces” as mentioned in A Path With Heart. This is how I learned of my deep longing for love and connection. I’m also now faced with a conflicting core belief that doesn’t trust connection for fear of being abandoned. Befriending your emotions will take you on a journey of really getting to know yourself.
John Welwood, author of Ordinary Magic believes “whatever pain or problem we have, if it helps us find a quality of presence- where we can open to it, see it, feel it, and find the truth concealed in it – that is our healing.”
Acknowledging, or “befriending” my fear allowed me to learn about the nature of it rather than hide from it. Working with my emotions provided piercing insight and awareness of the identity I’m growing through. I’m healing.
Become Your Own Emotional Ally
While I am healing, I still need to confront my need for love and fear of abandonment. The work is never over. I do, however, feel a sense of freedom knowing I was able to overcome my fears and change my reclusive habits. I saw myself through a deeply difficult emotion and I DIDN’T DIE! I have gained enough confidence to know that I can and will navigate through my most profound emotions as my own emotional ally (although I would enjoy a break for now.)
Becoming my own emotional ally on the path of psychological well-being gives me the tools to stay present. Instead of trying to change what is to what I think should be, befriending emotions allows me to learn from my most difficult reactions.
Through this process, I learned how to melt my ice-cold fear with the warmth of love. I’m now more capable and understanding to others who need support through major life challenges. As Pema Chodron says in Ordinary Magic:
“At a time like this, when there’s so much chaos and suffering in the world, individuals who are willing to wake up and make friends with themselves are actually needed, because they can work with others, they can hear what people are saying to them, they can come from the heart and be of use.”
The bottom line is that dealing with our emotions is tough.The best thing you can do for yourself is to be in tune with how you’re feeling, take care of yourself and become your own emotional ally.
By befriending my own uncomfortable emotions, I’m able to see and befriend the difficult emotions of others through my work. I’ve created a safe and welcome space for clients to experience emotions and grow from them.
Being given the experience to put aside my own overwhelming emotions was a valuable experience for dealing with emotional responses. With compassion I was able to touch gently on my pain and fear and let go when I began to feel overwhelmed. I want to share my knowledge with others and help them with their own uncomfortable emotions.