Painful emotions: this is how you welcome them (because it will make them leave much sooner)

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We all have our ways of muffling painful emotions. Some of us try to find distraction (in company, endlessly watching tv shows, comfort food), others use positive thinking to turn pain into something beautiful, or simply deny them. Do you tend to avoid emotional pain? Then Susan Smit wants to tell you something. 

Long ago, we created a toolbox that could help us overcome anything that could happen to us. If we want to, we can keep using the tools for the rest of our lives. That costs a lot of energy, though, and we won’t pick up on what the emotions want to tell us. Besides, we store them somewhere in our body anyway – they don’t disappear. We survive, but we don’t solve anything. 


I suggest something else. I suggest to simply feel, experience emotions. To undergo them and allow them to find their way through you. There’s a beautiful word for it: humility. 

Emotions are visitors

If you move towards difficult emotions and stop fighting them as if they’re enemies, you’ll find that you can take them. It’s not necessarily pleasant, you’d rather hang in a bar having a laugh, but you’ll find that it’s possible to keep breathing. You’ll also find that even the most intense emotions will leave you again, sooner or later. They are visitors, they’re not coming to stay. And you know they’ll leave more quickly if you welcome them generously and bravely and say goodbye with relief. You are big and strong enough to accept them as part of you, and as part of life, without fearing they will crush you. 

Part of life

This will be so useful to you. Because in your life, you will experience so many heavy emotional reactions to things, especially after a short night’s sleep, when you’re having a bad day or simply a terrible mood. Even when you’re 84. These emotions will keep coming and the causes for the emotions, too. It doesn’t make you a bad, weak or less spiritual person. It’s part of being alive. 

If you’re having a painful emotion, this is what you can do: 

* Feel how the emotion takes you by surprise. That’s all. Experience how your body responds to it (knot in your belly, pressure on the heart, clasping around the neck). 
* Don’t act, don’t express it, don’t put it away.
* Don’t attach any value to your thoughts, and don’t pay attention to what you’re thinking about the emotion, or about what causes it.
* Allow the emotion to be there and co-exist with it.
* Breathe through it. Follow your breathing and make it deep and calm.
* Observe what happens. Is the emotion getting more powerful, or less powerful? Do you feel calmer now?
* If you want to, express yourself or act, from this quiet place. 

How it works

This is how it works: something evokes an emotion inside you. Your body responds to it (and to the thoughts that come along with it) and does what it needs to do: it gets in a flight-, fight- or freeze mode. By deepening your breathing and slowing down, you give a signal to your body: it’s okay. There’s nothing life threatening about this. A deep belly breath is part of a relaxed situation. As a result, the physical reaction to your emotion will decrease. Then the emotion itself will decrease, in a natural way. Emotions want to move through you, come and go, they don’t want to stick with you. 

 Text: Susan Smit - Photo: Amy Treasure