Eight Step Method to Manage Intense Emotion
Recently I received this request from a reader:
What I have found lacking is books or articles on the process of revealing my feelings, the associated pain, and some kind of plan to work through the feelings that would help DURING the healing process. Knowing the common steps of healing would be very encouraging and provide both patience and hope.
When you push your feelings down as a child in order to cope with an environment that cannot tolerate them (Childhood Emotional Neglect), you grow up lacking access to your emotions. A large part of the process of healing involves breaking down the wall between yourself and your feelings and welcoming them.
But what if many of those old feelings are painful? What if the process is so painful that it’s too hard to let the wall down? What if you lack the skills needed to cope with the pain because no one ever taught you?
Managing painful feelings happens on Two Levels:
- In the Moment: Coping
- The Long-Term: Resolving
Next week’s article will be about Level 2: Long-Term Resolving. So check back!
8 Steps for Coping With A Difficult Emotion
- Sitting with the feeling is Step One toward processing it. So fight the natural urge to escape it. Take a deep breath, and set a goal to sit with it.
- Putting words to the feeling is Step Two toward processing it. So try to identify the feeling while you’re feeling it. Give it a name. Or, since most powerful feelings are a mixture of multiple ones, several names. For example, hurt, damaged, helpless, and hopeless.
- Remind yourself that this feeling is only just that: a feeling. It’s your body telling you something. Don’t give the feeling too much power, yet listen to what the feeling might be telling you.
- Let your tears out. (This applies to you too, men.) All of the above steps work best when you don’t hold back. Tears are your friend in this process, not your enemy.
- Recognize that no feeling lasts forever. And the best way to get a strong emotion to pass is to accept it. If you fight or escape it, it will keep its power over you.
- Picture the feeling as a wave washing over you. You are not running away from the wave or swimming into it. You are sitting and letting it run its course.
- Use your breathing to help you. Close your mind inward and focus on your breathing. Say to yourself with your inner voice (while continuing to welcome the painful feeling): As you inhale, you are breathing in strength, resolve, and clarity. You are building your ability to tolerate this strong feeling that you are having. Keep repeating it over and over.
- Most intense emotions need to be felt more than once and processed before they go away. After you have sat with the emotion, when you feel it lessening, it’s OK to put it aside and distract yourself out of it. But know that you will likely need to welcome it back again.
Each time you welcome, sit with and process an intense emotion, you are breaking through the wall that was set up in your childhood. You are taking an old, simmering emotion that had power over you from underground, and you are taking control of it. By owning it and listening to your feeling, you are owning and listening to yourself. You are giving yourself something vital, powerful, and meaningful that you did not get as a child: emotional acceptance and validation.
Truly, there is nothing more courageous than that.
Growing up with Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) can be difficult to remember. Yet it leaves its mark on you. To find out if you are living with CEN, Take The Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. It’s free.
To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, see my first book Running on Empty.