Dealing with Emotions

I was guided last night to talk about what to do with the emotions that come up in the healing process. I talk a lot about the mental gymnastics around healing because getting the brain on board is critical to this journey, but I haven’t talked very much about how to handle the emotions until now.

I tend to disagree somewhat with the popular spiritual theory that we should just sit in our emotional soup until it evaporates. While I appreciate the sentiment behind that idea, which is that we don’t want to ignore our emotions, the theory that we should sit in them for extended periods of time keeps us stuck for much longer than we need to be. There are better ways to do this without ignoring anything, squishing anything, or avoiding anything.

I’ve said before that emotions are a choice. The argument with that idea is that we don’t often get time to consciously decide how to feel before the emotions are already there. Often, the brain has us in the emotional soup before we even have time to consciously understand what’s happening. Just because the brain can beat us to the punch doesn’t mean we don’t have control. Let me explain!

Emotions come up in a couple of different ways. They come up in response to something that’s happening in the present moment or they come up in response to a memory or some other thought that triggers them. What we do in both of those situations makes a big difference in how we’re healing and how long it takes to heal from something that’s happened.

Quite frankly, even I can call up a memory and make myself cry. I’ve fully accepted everything that’s happened in my life. I’m no longer arguing with any of it. There are no boogeymen back there anymore. I’ve come to a good place in terms of my past, but that doesn’t mean there is no emotion attached to the memories. There will always be emotion attached to the memories. The question is not really whether or not you feel something when the memory gets conjured up, the question is more does it bother you beyond just being a sad memory? Do you end up fully reliving the experience? Do you go down the rabbit hole of feeling all the pain again? If you do that means you’re still arguing with it. If you don’t that means you’re probably in a good spot with that particular memory.

Honestly, memories like this are fairly easy to handle because we have control, we don’t have to dig in that box for no reason. When we’re choosing what to think about, we have the power to not go there if we don’t need to. We can decide that maybe that’s not helpful to us and stay out of some of those mud puddles. At this point, I have no reason to conjure up sad memories. When I share things in my past with you, because I’m okay with everything, I can share the experiences without bringing up all the emotions. I don’t need to dive headfirst into the emotional soup. There is no more work for me to do there at this point, so there’s no point in going there. I make conscious choices about how to respond to the memories when I need to dig them up. They can’t trigger me, at least not that way.

But sometimes, life triggers things unexpectedly and sometimes things happen that cause us to respond emotionally. Often that means we don’t get to take conscious control before the emotion comes spewing out. Then what?

The ideal or the goal is to become aware of yourself within the experience enough that you have time to perceive the emotions consciously before they simply fly out of you. Awareness or consciousness does provide a few seconds of lag time in the emotional response which is what allows us to consciously intervene before things just sort of happen. However, that takes practice and time. It doesn’t happen overnight. So, what do we do after the fact while we’re practicing our awareness?

Whenever you recognize the emotional response, that is the point at which you begin to take control. It doesn’t matter that you didn’t get there first. It doesn’t matter that stuff came out before you were able to do anything about it. The important part is that awareness has now kicked in because that is what enables you to make choices.

There are two goals in terms of our emotions. The first is to not let the emotions drag us around so that we can heal without getting stuck. The second is to create the awareness that gives us the lag time so that hopefully, we can gain control before the emotions just come flying out.

Most of the time when our emotions are triggered, the response is more habitual than anything. When the collectors would call and the fear would show up, that response was a habit. It didn’t necessarily mean that anything bad was going to happen in that call, I was just so used to being afraid, that it would happen whether I needed it or not. Heck, it would happen before I even knew who was calling, collector or otherwise. I didn’t have control over it and it wasn’t a conscious choice. What I had to learn to do was gain control over it. How? By questioning the feeling.

The brain controls the emotion we feel. It doesn’t mean there is conscious thought involved though, it just means that the brain is where the action is. So, use all that logic I give you to question the emotions. Are these necessary? Is there a bear in my living room that I need to be afraid of? Is there something happening here that I legitimately need to be afraid of or can I just tell the brain to calm the heck down? Is this emotion helping me right now? If the answer is no, then we can start to make choices and intervene consciously and with awareness.

The emotions we feel are a guidance system. It’s a GPS for us. It tells us that we might be getting off track, that maybe we need to choose a new direction. I ignored unhappiness for years thinking that I needed to live my life a certain way. Because I was so tied into how life was supposed to look, I ignored the emotion that told me that the life that I was creating wasn’t meant for me. It told me I was going against myself, but I had given my power up and I believed strongly that I needed to make life look a certain way, so I kept going until eventually, I blew up.

I know what ignoring emotion looks like, I did it for years in extremely unhealthy ways. I created a lot of pain for myself in the process. All the emotion asks you to do is look at the choices you’re making and decide whether you’re going in the right direction or not. The trick is, not every emotion is helpful. A fear response when you’re trying something new is completely normal, but if you allow it to stop you, it keeps you stuck. You get around that by recognizing that the fear is just there because you’re doing something new and that it’s okay to move forward anyway.

Habitual emotional responses aren’t particularly helpful either. So when I got to the place where I stopped fixing the fall out from my financial troubles, I had to sit in the fear for a while. I had to allow it to be there. I didn’t have control over it, it was just there and I just had to learn to stop responding to it. I would literally just sit on my couch and talk myself through what I was feeling using that same mental logic that I give you all the time. Is this helpful? Is there something I need to do here? What am I afraid of? Is that true? If not, then what is true?

The more I sat in that new place, the less fear I felt. Eventually, it faded away completely. The fear came from me putting myself in a new position by deciding to respond differently to the same outside triggers I had been responding to from fear before. The emotion was a habit that I needed to break. I did that by continually triggering it, allowing it to be there, and not responding to it.

When you’re healing or working through things for yourself and the emotions come up, you have to make choices about what to do with them. Three’s nothing wrong with the emotion. It’s not a bad thing. Sitting in it though, may not be the most helpful thing you can do for yourself. You’re far better off to question where it’s coming from and find the truth in what you’re feeling. The emotions will guide you, probably back to an old experience that you just need to accept and stop arguing with. When you do that, the stronger emotions tend to fade.

Emotions don’t run out. They don’t stop. If we’re waiting around for emotions to quit, if we keep going back there hoping that eventually, we won’t feel anything, we’re destined to be stuck for a long time. The goal is not to be emotionless, the goal is to have some emotional awareness of ourselves so that our emotions aren’t running the show anymore.

When we’re caught in victimization, in blame, guilt, or shame, the same is true. We have to question those. Is that helpful? What do I need to take responsibility for in this situation? What’s mine? What am I still trying to give away because I don’t want to deal with it yet? These emotions are created from stories we tell ourselves about what other people did to us. The truth is, 25-years after that experience happened, the person who did the thing back then doesn’t have control over how you feel at this point. Those feelings are yours and you have to take responsibility for them. The feelings are being triggered by the memory of what happened. You can’t erase what happened, so you have to deal with the present emotion and stop blaming how you feel on an old experience you don’t have control over and can’t change.

For as long as you choose to argue with the experience and wish it away, the emotions will continue to be there. You can’t heal the emotion because you’re still arguing with the experience. Accepting the experience allows you to deal with the emotions that are triggered by it. Most people try to do this backward and that’s why it doesn’t work. That’s why you can’t heal. You want the emotion to go away first, but it won’t because it’s triggered by the argument you’re having with yourself.

The emotions are just a distraction at that point and they stop you from healing. That’s why you have to get mental control so that you can acknowledge the emotion but still continue to question the argument. The emotions shouldn’t run you off the road. They can be there, but you can work through them indirectly by dealing with the argument instead. The emotion is a habit of response to this particular thing you’re working through. What it’s showing you is that there’s something there you need to heal. It’s not the emotion you need to fix though, it’s whatever the story is that you’re telling about what happened that needs to change. When you change that, then you change the emotional response.

The stories that give you the strongest emotional responses are the stories that come from victimization, blame, shame, and guilt. When you can work through those stories and understand that they aren’t true, you’ll be able to heal the emotion. It won’t work the other way around though. That’s why you get told to sit in the emotional soup because people want to make the emotions more important than the story of the mind that created the emotion. I put them the other way around because that’s what allows healing. That’s been my own process. I had to stop getting caught up in the emotions and gain mental clarity first. When I did that, I didn’t need to deal with the emotions directly because they were tied to the story. Truth be told, the only emotion I really ever dealt with directly was fear. That was something I needed to sit in because I was putting myself in a new experience and I just needed to allow it to be there without letting it stop me.

Fear was just something I had to rationalize and work my way through. I did eventually get a grip on that too, but it took some doing on my part, and that’s okay. Now I’m in a place where if the mind tries to play the fear card, I just tell it to take a hike. I didn’t get there right away though, I had to work through it first. I’m just here to tell you that’s possible because it is! I’ve done it!

This blog got really long really quickly. I kinda knew it would! You can trust I’ll be talking about this on social media and in my podcast on Thursday. Let me know what questions you have about this! I’d love to hear from you.

Love to all.


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