Sitting With Our Emotions

Certain emotions can be unpleasant and uncomfortable to experience, especially if the emotions are new or different than what we may typically experience.  Some of us may also experience certain emotions at high levels of intensity, which can feel overwhelming and seem challenging to deal with.  Therefore it is a common human response to want to avoid, minimize, or suppress emotions that we consider to be undesirable such as fear, hurt, anger, sadness, depression, or anxiety.  Pushing these emotional experiences down or pretending like they are not happening may be a temporary fix to promote our ability to function in the short term however these reactions just prolong the inevitable: the need to deal with the root of our emotions.  In fact, efforts to avoid or minimize feelings can have the opposite effect by actually intensifying symptoms or emotions.

In order to resolve negative and uncomfortable emotional experiences in a healthy manner, we need to be able to acknowledge in a non-judgmental manner any emotion that we feel in the moment.  This requires us to practice awareness of what happens for us emotionally, physically, and mentally at any point in time.  I commonly recommend for clients to create a ritual of checking in with him/herself throughout the day in which the following questions are answered:

·      What mood or feelings am I currently experiencing?

·      What physical sensations do I currently notice in my body?

·      What type of thoughts am I currently experiencing?

Once we are able to establish awareness of what happens for us from moment to moment, we can then practice the skill of acknowledging our experiences without placing judgment on them or trying to change them in any way.  For example, “I am feeling sad and don’t want to do anything.  I feel an emptiness in my heart and have no appetite.”  Instead of becoming critical of ourselves by thinking we should not be feeling sad and need to change it, which just adds to our sadness, we can learn to simply recognize our experience for what it is and allow ourselves to sit with it for as long as it occurs.  Even though it may not seem like it in the moment, sitting with our emotions can lead to healthy resolution, as it requires us to embrace and deal with our experiences.  This skill takes practice and patience but can be extremely rewarding and healing.

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT