become skilful in emotional processing     

So what is a healthy way to deal with emotions? Early on in this pillar you started to shine light on the different ways in which you try to avoid and sedate your emotions. These strategies were learnt early on in life, and they represented your best effort at trying to minimise the experience of uncomfortable emotions so that you could get on with life.

 

But what would happen if you replaced your old (immature) strategies with new (mature) ones which, when used, actually moved you towards greater health, intimacy and true happiness. What if it was possible to address the underlying causes of any emotional discomfort so that you no longer needed to run away from or fight your feelings? What if the key to happiness and fulfilment was to not focus exclusively on doing things that make you feel good, but to train yourself to get good at feeling?

 

How emotions are processed           

Hopefully, having read the previous sections, you’re now aware of how you avoid emotions and are becoming more aware of them. Remember that emotions are basically information. In order to receive that information, we need to welcome our emotions, accept them, digest them and then, depending on the situation, either use the information to make a decision or take action or, if the emotion relates to the past, process it. The emotional processing tools that follow will help you do that. First let me explain how the body processes emotions.

 

Built into the same intelligence or body wisdom that co-ordinates the trillions of interactions of your body–mind is a system for processing emotions. All of us, to differing degrees, experience stress, hurt, disappointment and sadness, so it makes sense that nature should provide us with a way of absorbing, digesting and processing emotions. Our emotional-processing system is essentially a form of emotional housekeeping.

 

One important way in which the body–mind processes emotion was discovered by Joe Griffin, a founder member of an organisation called the Human Givens Institute. In a nutshell, they propose that when you experience emotional arousal during the day (for example, if you worry about money or a relationship problem), but are unable able to resolve it in some way (process it), the charge will be deactivated by the process of dreaming. The incomplete emotional arousals are discharged and completed through the often bizarre and exaggerated scenarios acted out in your dreams. However, this requires longer periods of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and the amount of deep, restorative sleep experienced is, therefore, significantly shortened. So, you wake in the morning feeling exhausted, with less energy and motivation to take action and take care of your emotional and physical needs, and you are more likely to put a negative spin on your circumstances. The vicious cycle continues

 

Tools for emotional processing        

While there are many ways to deal with emotions (most of which involve control and sedation of emotion), when it comes to improving your emotional health and discovering true happiness the focus really needs to be on processing/digesting the emotion. The main emotional processing skills that I use and teach, in addition to simply allowing yourself to feel fully your emotions, are:

 

● EmoTrance

● Cradling

● Honest self-expression

 

I suggest that you experiment with each of these in order to discover which works best for you. You might, for example, use different skills depending on the situation and emotion you are working with. While it might initially feel clumsy or uncomfortable using them, with patience and practice they will eventually become second nature.

 

I often get asked what one should do when strong feelings, such as anger, arise in the moment, but there isn’t the time or it’s an inappropriate place to address them. You have a number of options. I suggest using 4/7 breathing to bring you into the present moment and then later on in the day check in with yourself to see if you are carrying any strong emotions. Alternatively, as you get more proficient in using the tools that follow, you can use them in the moment without anyone noticing (EmoTrance is particularly good in this situation).

 

EmoTrance    

 

EmoTrance is a simple and highly effective emotional processing tool that I teach most of my patients. It is based on the idea that a healthy state of mind and body arises when subtle energy (chi) flows without interruption through and out of the body. When we hold on to, suppress or repress an emotional upset this stops the energy from flowing, which in turn leads to distressing mental and sometimes physical symptoms. EmoTrance is designed to restore the flow of energy through the emotional body that I mentioned earlier on.

 

EXERCISE: How to use EmoTrance

Give yourself at least 20 minutes to do this at a time when you know you won’t be disturbed.

1.      Think of a statement, fact, thought or criticism that causes you to feel upset or to feel ‘negative’ emotions. This could be a person or a phrase that upsets you, such as ‘You’re fat,’ ‘You’re useless,’, or ‘You disappoint me’.

2.      Write this issue down on a piece of paper, turn it face down, take a deep breath, then turn it back over and allow yourself to feel any emotions. (If you don’t feel anything, choose another issue.)

3.      Pay close attention to where you feel it in your body. If there is more than one site, choose the one that feels strongest. What you are feeling is just trapped energy or emotion that wants to move.

4.      If you can, gently place your hands on that area and get a sense of the direction in which the energy wants to go. If you don’t get an immediate indication, start massaging the area with your hands, continuing to concentrate on softening the energy as you do so.

5.      When the energy starts to move, which it will do, get a feel for which part of your body it wants to exit through. This can be any location – top of the head, mouth, nose, hands, feet, anything goes! If it’s not obvious which exit route it wants to take, just be patient and continue softening until it starts exiting your body.

6.      Allow all the energy to exit your body. If it appears to get stuck, gently rub that area or trace the route you feel it wants to take with one of your hands as that often helps.

7.      More often than not, there will be residual energy in your body, so to make sure that all of the emotional charge has been de-activated, repeat the whole procedure again, starting from number 3.

8.      Keep repeating until you feel no unpleasant sensation at all. On average it takes two to three cycles. If you feel lighter, more energised and much clearer around the issue, then you have successfully deactivated that emotional trauma – well done!

9.      Take a moment to consider how this experience will change your behaviour and the way you feel about the issue.

 

Using this tool might at first appear to be a bit tricky, but once you’ve tried it a couple of times you’ll see how straightforward it is. The key is to be patient with yourself. Part of your mind will try to rush you and convince you that it isn’t working for you. If this happens to you, just slow down, breathe deeply and continue.

 

In summary, when you have an emotionally-charged issue to work with:

  • Locate where you are feeling the energy
  • Tell it to soften and flow
  • Get a sense of where it wants to exit your body
  • Allow it to flow and if you catch yourself trying to force it or getting frustrated by it breathe deeply and let go
  • Repeat until you have gone as far as you can

 

 

Recapitulation – emotional housekeeping

 

This is a tool that I use myself on most nights just prior to going to bed and one that I highly recommend you try. It involves reviewing the decisions and experiences of your day with the intention of identifying whether there is any left over emotional charge. If there is you then use EmoTrance to process it – it’s a form of emotional housekeeping. In addition to this you might notice an unwanted pattern of behaviour of yours, without criticism you can mentally rehearse how you would have preferred you to have responded. To start the process, sit up in bed or in a set, close your eyes and take a couple of long, slow deep breathes in and out whilst focusing on the area in and around your heart. Starting at the beginning of the day, watch yourself as though seeing yourself on a TV screen. Move forward through the day’s events and pay attention to what your body is communicating to you in respect of feelings and bodily sensations. If you feel something uncomfortable, either process the feeling or place your hand on your heart and ask yourself what is required to re-balance this situation. For example if you said something inappropriate to someone, the way to re-balance it might be to make an apology to them the next day. Usually an insight as to what you should do will come up. Make some notes in your journal if need be. The whole process usually takes 5 to 10 minutes is a highly effective way to keep you on the track to higher emotional well-being.

 

Cradling         

This is a tool that I have personally found to be very useful when it comes to managing my own emotions. Many of my patients have also really benefited from it. In a nutshell it involves noticing, meeting, greeting and cradling your emotions with warmth and affection. It sounds complicated, but in practice it’s pretty straightforward.

Drop into your heart - breathe in and out of your heart and say silently – I am heart

 

From your heart notice and observe the emotion (energy) arising within you. Notice where it is located most strongly within your body

 

Now meet and greet that emotion. Say to it silently ‘I am pleased you are here’. Now move towards it and feel it with your awareness. Keep breathing gently; keep your attention on what you are feeling

 

Feel that energy/emotion with the same care, warmth and sensitivity that a loving father or mother would cuddle their child if they were upset. When cradling your emotions you are simply accepting and embracing them just as they are. Breathe in and out of that emotion, allow yourself to move deeper into it. Just stay with it until the energy dissipates – allow however long it takes. You will know it’s dissipated because you will feel a release of tension and you will feel more Present and Alert.

 

Think about the original person / issue – what do you notice has shifted about the way you are now feeling and thinking in relationship to them?

 

 

Honest self-expression         

One of the simplest ways to process feelings is to share what you are feeling with another person in a way that is open, honest and respectful. Honest self-expression is not about getting things off your chest or dumping your feelings on to someone else. It’s about owning your thoughts and feelings, deciding what is important and relevant to share and then communicating those thoughts and feelings as a grown-up adult. It is about sharing your inner reality with another person, but doing so – and this is the key – with the simple intention of communicating and sharing your truth only. It’s not about control, getting results, power struggles, manipulating the other person or trying to get them to change. Put another way, you are not trying to get anything from the other person; you are just sharing your truth with them. That’s the first half of the process; the second half, if appropriate and necessary, is to then listen to and receive the truth of what they have to say.

 

Of course this sounds daunting. And it is. But, like any skill, it gets easier the more you practise. When I explain the process of honest self-expression to my patients, many of them (just like I used to) are concerned at the prospect of ‘opening up’ to others. I completely understand why this is. Being vulnerable and speaking our truth brings up a lot of fear, and most of us, in the past, have not had positive experiences when speaking our truth.

 

EXERCISE: Honest self-expression

Practise with someone you trust and with whom you feel safe. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • A good way to start the process is to share exactly how you are feeling in that moment. For example, ‘I feel fearful and vulnerable talking to you about. . .’
  • The key is to keep what you are sharing connected to and rooted in your feelings, i.e. resist the temptation to talk about the life situation or about someone else; just focus on what you feel about the life situation or feel in relationship to that person.
  • Breathe deeply and allow yourself to feel what you are feeling as you speak. Avoid the temptation to rush – keep connected to what you are feeling.
  • If you can, then ‘drop’ beneath the feeling and identify the unmet need. There often is an unmet need there – what is it? Is it to be heard, appreciated, accepted or respected? Or is your need to simply to share your perspective?
  • Sharing your feelings and underlying needs might be enough. However, there are times, especially when you might be in conflict with someone, that you need to make a request that will fulfil the unmet need. Once shared this may or may not need to be negotiated.
  • A successful outcome occurs when the communication process has been completed with respect and as a mature adult. You have communicated your feelings and needs and made a request to address the unmet needs and negotiated if necessary. You will know it’s complete because you will feel a positive shift in your well-being and will feel at peace.

It’s not easy, but it really does come with practice

 

Tips

  • When using honest self-expression with someone with whom you feel upset, one of the most important things is to become present. Use 4/7 breathing or one of the other emotional processing skills. You want to be in touch with your feelings but not overwhelmed by them.
  • One of the keys to sharing your truth is to keep the focus on you by using ‘I’ statements, rather than ‘you’ statements. For example, ‘I feel sad when you say that’, rather than, ‘You make me sad’. It is a revelation to realise the fact that no one causes you to feel a certain way; it is how you respond to what others do and say that makes your feel the way you do. So, you have choice in how you feel in any given moment.
  • Avoid using the word ‘feel’ as part of a judgment: ‘I feel that you are bad’ or, ‘I feel like you don’t care’. When you notice yourself using phrases like this, just smile to yourself, and without judging yourself, rephrase what you have just said. So, rather than saying, ‘I feel you are bad’, say, ‘When you speak to me like that, I feel sad, hurt and scared’.

 

A few questions to ask yourself

When using honest self-expression in everyday situations, it’s important to be discerning both in terms of what you share, who you share it with, when you share and how much you share. Ask yourself the following questions before using honest self-expression. It will probably feel strange thinking about this initially, but with practice it should start to feel more natural.  

 

Am I in a mature adult state in which I can express myself openly, honestly and with respect? Before you speak, ask yourself how old you feel. If the answer is anything less than your chronological age, it suggests that you have emotionally regressed and the voice that is about to emerge from your mouth is from your immature adolescent self, not your adult self. If so, the most important thing to do is to ‘grow yourself’ back up, before speaking. You can do this by using any of the other processing tools (for example EmoTrance). I normally do 4/7 breathing, focus on my heart and silently say the words ‘I am the mature adult self’. Once you feel as though you are in your adult self, then that is the time to speak.

 

Is what I am about to say true? It’s important to ask this question. If what you’re about to say isn’t true, what can you say or do which would be more truthful and also respectful? This helps to break the automatic pattern that many people have of exaggerating, lying or saying things that simply aren’t true.  

 

Is what I am about to say appropriate to the situation? This is where discernment comes in. I might be feeling upset about something my wife said to me prior to leaving for work and all set to talk about it when returning home; however, if she is in the middle of cooking dinner or about to get ready to go out for the evening, the moment probably isn’t going to be right. Of course, sometimes the moment may never feel right, but the way to create the right moment is to say something along the lines of, ‘There is something important I want to share with you. When will be the best time to speak?’ You then negotiate an appropriate time.

 

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