Therapy for the Future
Judging feelings as bad. Dealing with difficult emotions.
Many of us have learnt to deal with our emotions by labelling our feelings as good or bad.
Unfortunately, when we do this, especially when we judge a feeling as bad, we are actually making ourselves feel worse. We put an extra burden on ourselves by being critical of our emotional experience. An experience or event that has upset us and brought up difficult feelings for us, which we then proceed to judge, and ourselves for feeling so. This adds to our discomfort and upset by increasing the emotional charge and we end up getting wrapped up in our emotions. As a consequence, we become reactive, making impulsive decisions and choices that aren't in our best interest or for our highest good.
What is the alternative?
1. Learn to recognise and name the particular emotion(s) you are feeling.
For example, you may be feeling bad or upset about something. Is it sadness or disappointment, anger or annoyance?
Often when we have been avoiding our feelings for a long time, it can be difficult to actually identify and name them, adding to emotional overwhelm or conversely, numbness. We may have learnt to switch off and dissociate from our feelings, through distractions such as work, day dreaming and thinking. A feelings wheel can help you identify specific emotions.
2. Showing yourself some self compassion, as you would to a friend if they were feeling as
you were, such as empathic self talk.
This can be challenging as lack of self compassion is a significant contributing factor of emotional suffering. If you struggle with self compassion, you are quite likely someone who shows a lot of care for others but little for yourself.
Thinking about someone real or imagined who emanates compassion for you is a good way to remind yourself what self compassionate behaviour looks like, and using this visualisation to imagine and begin to feel compassion for yourself. Remember, changing the way you relate to yourself takes time and requires patience and gentleness.
3. Mind-body interventions such as visualisation techniques and mindfulness.
Mindfulness helps you get in touch with your feelings and increases your tolerance for discomfort so you can process and let the feeling(s) go. This is because, when we practise mindfulness such as body scans and breathing meditations, we are regulating the autonomic nervous system by changing the physiological fight-flight response of the sympathetic nervous system to the rest-digest response of the parasympathetic nervous system.
When we are disconnected from, or overwhelmed by, our emotions it means that either we are living too much in the rational part of our minds (prefrontal cortex) or too much in the emotional brain (limbic system), which makes it very difficult to change our state of mind. By practising both self compassion and mindfulness you are bringing both aspects of the emotional mind and rational mind together, which is referred to as the wise mind. The wise mind is a balance between the emotional and rational mind, where you can recognise and soothe your feelings and respond to them appropriately. The limbic system (emotional brain) alerts you to your feelings, emotional triggers and upset. The prefrontal cortex (rational mind), where our executive function is located, allows you to engage in strategies, such as flexible thinking and soothing self talk to process difficult emotions and be more in control of your emotional behaviour, as a result emotional self-regulation.
As you learn and practise recognising specific feelings, and simply acknowledging them, without judgement and compassionately saying to yourself, " I am feeling X", you are increasing your emotional intelligence and getting better at dealing with difficult feelings and them letting go.
If you would like to support with any of the above please get in touch with me at email@example.com