This habitual way of dealing with emotions causes more harm than good; 3 tips to change it now!
All of us do it, it just seems so natural. Most of us have a strong aversion to experiencing discomfort and pain. It’s in our evolutionary make up. Keeping away from pain is what keeps us safe right? When we’re near a roaring fire, feeling the tinge of burn on our skin, keeps us from jumping in the wonderous light. So it’s no wonder that we run away from or suppress our emotional pain as well.
Let’s face it, it’s uncomfortable to feel sadness, anger, fear, envy, or any other type of uneasy feeling. So what do we do, we develop a coping habit, just like we do with staying away from the fire, of distracting or suppressing these emotions as they arise. Why does this do more harm than good? It keeps us away from discomfort, right? Wrong.
If you can imagine, emotions are like little parts of yourself that are contained inside your mind and body just roaming around. For some of us it seems like certain emotions consistently seem to reside in certain areas. For example, for me and many clients I’ve worked with, sadness seems to really reside in the chest and face, while I often hold frustration in my shoulders. Some people hold fear in their stomach (e.g., butterflies in the stomach). So when we try and suppress these emotions, they really have nowhere to go, so they get pushed down and this creates tension and pressure in the body and mind. This pressure tends to build and we all have our breaking points. At some point, it comes out in other ways, maybe at people we don’t know, like at the checkout stand or maybe over some negligible issue with family, partners, or friends. I get clued in that I’m suppressing things when I start to tear up at a commercial or sitcom. Ignoring our emotions is also like ignoring parts of ourselves, which sends us the subtle message that we don’t deserve to be paid attention to or that we’re not worth it. When supported by these behaviors, these types of inner beliefs help lead to depressive and anxious ways of being.
Here are 3 tips on what to do when you can do when you get clued in that suppression is occurring:
- Bring awareness to the body - Bring attention to the area of your body that you are feeling the sensation of emotion. You may not be able to name the emotion at this point, but just bringing attention to it is a first step to not suppressing it (If you have a significant other, let them know you are practicing this).
- Name it! – Research is now showing that naming our emotions can have a calming effect on our minds and bodies. However, most of us don’t have a good vocabulary of emotions. You can find a list of emotions here to help you build a vocabulary.
- Care for it – Most would agree that when you’re feeling an uncomfortable emotion you’re probably not feeling well. What would you do if you had a close friend or family member who was not feeling well? You may want to take care of that person. Somehow, we often don’t think this way for ourselves. Taking some time-out for yourself and either paying attention to the emotion, or after acknowledging it, choosing to do a pleasurable activity, like you would want to do for a very close friend, can be supportive.
It’s also true that emotions don’t arise from a vacuum and are coming up in relation to others. Ways to express emotions is another blog, but let’s just say that doing this will help to feel more grounded to express the emotion in the way that is most skillful. Of course, if at any point you feel overwhelmed by paying attention to uncomfortable emotions, you may want to look into seeing a therapist to support you in this process.
Please feel free to comment, question, or share your experiences!
Thank you! - Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. - Aug 1st 2008
Thank you for your comment.
Some people I know put little reminders in their daily calendars that pop up on their computers reminding them to check in with their minds and bodies in the moment. All this means is labeling how the body is feeling, if any emotions are arising, and if the mind is busy or calm.
You can even get more basic...are you feeling pleasant, upleasant, or neutral in this moment? and just notice that.
It's so natural to get caught up in our every day habits of being that putting little meeting reminders in your calendar can be really helpful and grounding. But, remember, you will likely become habituated to the reminders as well, so switching up the times helps with that.
If anyone else has any thoughts, feel free to share...Enjoy!
Great blog! - - Aug 1st 2008
Thank you Dr. Goldstein for your informative article below. It is so easy to ignore our bodies and our emotions. As I read your blog, I began to notice my breathing and how I was feeling emotionally. I think we all need constant reminders to check in with ourselves. It is also nice to give ourselves permission to care for our own emotional lives. It is so easy to give to others and so hard to authentically give to ourselves.
Thank you Dr. Goldstein for a wonderful blog and for your insight. I look forward to purchasing your CD and reading your future blogs. You are a pioneer in you field. I am grateful for your work!