Allowing ourselves to be present with our emotions is an incredibly powerful and meaningful practice. When we embrace our emotions, we are embracing ourselves in a way that lets our feelings and experiences know that we can handle them. However, it can be a really challenging practice to embrace our emotions when we are struggling, when we are going through a difficult time, or when we are stressed and overwhelmed with life in general. When we’ve gotten good at numbing out and avoiding our emotions through behaviors, it can feel like we need to start completely from the beginning to learn how to be present with our emotions. It’s worth it to put in the work to learn to fully embrace our emotions.
Embracing our emotions can be a difficult practice to start if we have been avoiding, numbing out, or suppressing our emotions for a long time. We cannot pick and choose which emotions to numb, so if we are numbing any emotions we are numbing out the full spectrum of our emotions. This generalized emotional numbing creates a limited range of experiencing our lives in the here and the now to the fullest, and this is causes suffering.
If you allow yourself to fully embrace the vast range of the emotions you experience, you allow yourself to embrace yourself, your fullness, and your wholeness, as the amazing being that you are. If you avoid, numb, or repress your emotions, you are limiting your experience of your life and not embracing your full-self.
Emotions are information. They allow us to understand our experience and provide us with powerful messages regarding what and how we are taking in our present moment. When you can experience your emotions in a nonjudgemental way, by observing, exploring, and fully processing your emotions, you receive really valuable information. The trouble is that many of us struggle with the discomfort of uncomfortable emotions, and many of us never learned how to cope, handle, express, or release our emotions in a healthy way. This can lead to beliefs about our emotions that are faulty and unhelpful, such as anger is a “bad” emotion and happiness is a “good” emotion. If you can remove the judgement you can see the emotion for what it is, helpful information about your life experiences.
In the process of learning to embrace our emotions there are helpful ways to begin to ease into the work. When it comes to emotions, it can be helpful to know that you have to name them to tame them. Learning to name your emotions immediately diffuses some of the intensity of the emotion. Naming your emotion creates a construct to understand the emotion through language. Once you’ve named the emotion for what it is, the taming of the emotion is about getting curious about why the emotion is present for you, and what it wants you to know. In a space of curiosity you can ask questions that allow you to explore and express the emotions in a healthy, meaningful, and empowering way.
Another important factor in learning to embrace our emotions is understanding, feeling, and coping with, the somatic elements of emotions. Thoughts about an experience can conjure up sensations in our bodies, this is where the emotions live within our physical being. Once you’ve named your emotion and gotten curious about it, begin to sit with where you feel the emotion in your body. This can be uncomfortable, however, if you can describe the sensation, and continue with the practice of curiosity, you can understand it, and then allow your body to feel it fully, in order to release it.
Our bodies don’t know the difference between thoughts, perceptions, and experiences, so getting in touch with the somatic elements of emotions can happen after the fact of a challenging circumstance that hasn’t been fully processed. This is why it is so helpful to practice processing feelings by being present with them, naming them, and practicing letting them go in a way that allows you to fully release them from your mind and your body. This way you are not carrying around the baggage of old, unprocessed feelings. When we bury our feelings, we bury them alive. They don’t go away, they get repressed and suppressed and eventually they show back up because they want to be understood and healed. This process allows that full and deep embrace of your emotions, welcoming them in, naming them, getting curious about them, and then truly feeling them so you can let them go.
Journaling can be a very helpful way to begin to get in touch with your emotions. It can be intimidating if you haven’t tried it, and sometimes clients tell me that they are afraid of getting stuck in an uncomfortable emotion or feeling state if they open it up to journaling. This is where I recommend having a journaling process, where you feel in control of easing into the work of embracing your emotions. While it’s important that you find the right process for you, I recommend starting with a feelings wheel, you can access one HERE. Begin by naming the emotion, or locate the emotion on the wheel. Write it down in your journal. Set a timer for 1-5 minutes and write out everything you can about this particular feeling.
It might look something like this:
–Emotion Name: Anger
–Where do I feel the emotion in my body? I feel it in my stomach, it’s a swirling feeling that I don’t like, and my heart is beating faster, there is some tension in my arms and my jaw. Everything feels tight.
–Am I trying to avoid the emotion, if so why? It feels really uncomfortable, I don’t like feeling angry, I just want it to go away.
–What message is this emotion trying to send me, what does it want me to know? I am feeling this emotion because someone really upset me at work, I feel like they took advantage of my kindness and then took credit for something I worked really hard on, it makes me so mad that they did this and then I didn’t stand up for myself, I didn’t know what else to do so I just stood there and now I’m stuck with all of this anger towards them and towards myself. I’m also hurt, I thought this person was a friend.
-What does this feeling need from me, is there any action I can take? It wants me to stand up for myself, to confront the person, but that feels really scary. It wants me to be brave and tell this person how I feel. I don’t know if I’m ready for that, but that’s what it wants me to know it needs.
-When the timer goes off, pause, take a breath, and draw a line on the page to delineate before and after.
-Take a quick scan of your body and notice if you are still holding onto tension related to the emotion as you’ve been writing and connecting to the feeling. If so, see if you can relax any areas where the emotion is still festering in your body. For example, if your stomach is still swirling, begin to take slow deep breaths into your abdomen, feeling is expand as you inhale and soften as you exhale. If your heart is still beating faster, continue with the steady breathing, slow and deep. If your jaw and arms are still tense, see if you can exaggerate the tension, take a deep breath in, and then exhale deeply as you let all of the tension go. Repeat this until the tension releases. Then imagine a soft light streaming into the areas of discomfort and transforming any lingering sensations of the emotion, see if you can imagine the light clearing it out and letting it go.
–Then, locate an emotion on the wheel that you’d like to feel, or consider the opposite feeling state from what you were experiencing. If was anger, the opposite emotion might be to feel peaceful. Spend a little time journaling about that feeling in any way that feels helpful for you. Invite in this more desired feeling state to your mind and your body. Allow yourself the opportunity to choose how you want to feel. You can also do a short, guided meditation or guided imagery from an app to help release anything else that needs to be cleared from your body.
–Be sure to thank yourself for showing up for yourself. Thank your emotions for helping you to understand your experience internally. Thank yourself for trying a new way to be present with your emotions, and for learning to embrace your emotions. Remember, there are no bad feelings, they are all messengers, information, and necessary to understand our complicated experiences of being a human.
I hope you will take time during this busy, often overwhelming, and stressful time of year to pause, check in with yourself and let yourself feel your emotions in a mindful, curious and compassionate way.