rocks in torrential river water, as metaphor for negative emotions

You may have noticed, I have an earlier blog titled The Opportunity behind Difficult Emotions.  This is often the work I do in my office with someone—examining the longing, the story, the need, behind negative emotions or emotional rupture between two people.  It can open up worlds.  

This blog is about how to manage or navigate our individual negative emotions – anger, sorrow, grief, shame, loneliness. What I am suggesting here stands side-by-side with that earlier blog and its message to look at our strong, difficult emotions as a doorway into some precious part of ourselves. This message supports that deeper exploration with our partners.

These six steps can help you learn to roll more gracefully with your negative emotions, in a way that is kinder to yourself and to those around you.

Step One: Turn toward your negative emotions with curiosity and acceptance.

This is easier said than done, but it does evolve with practice. Conscious breathing aids this.  Once you become aware of the emotion you are feeling, notice where it is in your body. You might feel it as a pit in your belly, a tightening of your throat, the pounding of your chest, your fists clenching, or tension somewhere else.  Just notice your experience with softness and compassion.

Think of ‘e-motion’ as ‘energy in motion.’ Emotions are intended to, by its very nature, to move. To transform.  Sit with whatever you are feeling and simply watch how they shift. 

The key here is to not push negative emotions away. Bottling them up inside can cause them to bubble up and explode later, resulting in more difficult emotions or even a complete emotional shutdown. Listen to your negative emotions. They are trying to help you wake up to what’s going on before a major crisis occurs.

Step Two: Rethink how you label the emotion.

Instead of saying, “I am angry”, say, “This is anger. This is how anger feels in my body” or, “This is anxiety. This is how anxiety feels.” You’re acknowledging its presence, while simultaneously empowering yourself to move a step or two away from it, and its hold on you.

Step Three: In accepting your emotions without judgement, you are able to mine them, to explore what it is they are trying to tell you.

When you are feeling a certain emotion, don’t deny it. Acknowledge and accept that the emotion is present, whatever you are experiencing in that moment. Through mindful acceptance, and employing loving kindness, you can embrace difficult emotions with compassion, awareness, and understanding. When we do this, something softens inside and we are able to look beneath the emotion to what it is trying to tell us.

What is loving kindness?  It’s extending compassion toward another and toward ourselves. Think of a friend or a loved one who might be having a hard time. What would you say to them? Imagine in your mind, you actually saying that to them.  Then, imagine saying the same thing to yourself: “I am ok. `My experience, my feelings, just ‘are’ – not right or wrong. I did the best I could.”

Strive to experience these emotions in a more fleeting manner, like clouds that pass by in the sky.  Hold these images and phrases with loving kindness and compassion. Extend this act of kindness toward yourself and become aware of what is going on within you. In this way, you will gain the power to not only calm and soothe yourself, but also your partner.

The intention here is to come to the place where you realize that you are not your anger, fear, grief, or any other difficult emotion you are feeling. Instead, they are experiences you are having;  they point to something you need to reflect upon in your life.

Opening yourself up to your emotions allows you to create a space of awareness, curiosity, and expansiveness that you can then apply to your relationship, as well as any other aspects of your life.

Step Four: Realize the impermanence of your emotions.

Remember ‘e-motion, or energy in motion’ from Step One?  Every one of our emotions is fleeting, impermanent. They arise and reside within us for a time, and then disappear. It’s easy to forget this when we’re in the midst of them, but it’s true.

Allow yourself to witness and observe your emotions with kind attention and patience, giving them the latitude to morph, and, in some cases, to completely evaporate.

Step Five: After you have calmed and soothed yourself, take a moment to look inside and explore what happened. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • So, what triggered me?
  • Do I know what is causing me to feel this way?
  • Was it a result of something I told myself, my critical mind, or was it in reaction to something external?  Something my partner said or did?
    Perhaps you had a hard day at work or some difficulty arose dealing with your family. Maybe you are feeling unappreciated, lonely, or disconnected.  
  • What were your expectations surrounding the situation? Was it that those expectations weren’t met?
  • What reactions or judgments caused you to become angry or anxious?
  • Is this a pattern that keeps arising?

Trust your deepest, authentic self to answer these questions.  All feelings happen for some reason.

Asking yourself these questions and investigating the root of your difficult emotions can help you gain empathy and insight into your inner world and into your own patterns. 

Step Six: Recognize our emotions simply ‘are’ — they are neither good nor bad.

Our emotions permeate the fabric of our being; they simply are. They give us information about what’s important to us. They open doors to our deepest, inner chambers. They are the springboard for intimacy. 

To the best of your ability, be open to the outcome and what unfolds. Mindfully dealing with our emotions is hard and it takes time. Be kind, compassionate, and patient with yourself as you learn this practice.