How’s your relationship with your emotions?

Christina ReynoldsAcceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), general, Mindfulness Meditation, Uncategorized

You may be thinking….this is a strange question to be asked; why would you be asking me this? I am hoping, by the time you finish reading this article, you will be thinking this isn’t so strange and it totally makes sense!

Let’s take a look at your current relationship with your emotions by answering the following questions (please take your time and really explore with curiosity your experiences):

Do you struggle or fight with some or all of your emotions (e.g., anger, anxiety, sadness, joy, etc.)?

Do you tend to ignore some or all of your emotions until they are too loud for you to ignore?

Do you try and will some or all of your emotions away when they show up?

Do you judge them as good or bad, right or wrong, threatening or friendly?

Do you do certain things to get rid of your emotions (e.g., drink alcohol, eat, exercise, distract, etc.)?

If you answered YES to most, if not all of the above questions, don’t be concerned, there is something you can do about it.

What impact does this type of relationship with your emotions (struggle, fight, ignore, suppress, judge) have on yourself, on your important relationships, on your ability to engage fully in your day-to-day life, or to do the things that matter in your life?

I am guessing for most of you (long-term at least) this type of relationship with your emotions has a negative impact, some of which may include the following:

  • Frustration with the fact that the emotions won’t go away, in fact the pesky little buggers keep coming back, a bit like when you throw a boomerang.
  • Exhaustion from all the suppressing and fighting (feels like a never ending game of tug-of-war).
  • Spontaneous emotional outbursts without any knowledge as to why.
  • Sense of self as weak or defected because you are experiencing certain emotions. Asking yourself….What’s wrong with me?
  • Struggle with addictive behaviours (e.g., smoking, alcohol, food, drugs, etc)
  • Fear of feelings showing up in interactions with others or certain situations.
  • Avoidance of doing things that matter to you that bring strong feelings up.
  • Avoiding challenging situations (e.g., conflict, dating, going for a promotion, etc.)

You may find yourself asking….how did this relationship with my emotions come about? What we believe is that it stems from our early experiences, our childhood programming. Let’s look at your early childhood programming around emotions by asking yourself the following questions:

What messages did you receive growing up about emotions?

Which emotions were you told were good or bad?

What ways were you taught to handle your emotions?

How did the adults in your life handle their emotions? What behaviours did you observe them doing to deal with their feelings?

For some of us our childhood programming for how to process and respond to our emotions wasn’t all that great. We may have seen the adults in our lives coping with their feelings by drinking them away, yelling and screaming at each other, we may even had received messages like ….. “don’t be a girl” when crying or “it’s not lady like” when you were angry. Hopefully you can start to see that it isn’t really your fault that you find yourself in this predicament of an unhealthy relationship with your emotions and at the same time, it’s up to you to change it.

Emotions are of vital importance to us, why else would they be part of our day-to-day experience. Most experts agree that feelings originate from the brain, involve a complex series of physical changes throughout the body, and these physical changes prepare us to take action. For example, let’s look at anxiety:

Physical changes include raised blood pressure, increased heart rate, increased sweating, extra blood flow to the legs or faster rate of breathing.

Sensations include tightness in the chest, upset stomach, shaking hands, sweaty palms, trembling legs or racing heart.

Urges include to freeze, escape or quit what you are doing.

Behaviours may include a tendency to fidget, talk rapidly, or pace up and down.

It’s important to note that our feelings are closely linked to our thoughts, memories and images to. In the example of anxiety you may have thoughts of something going wrong, memories of times when it has gone wrong, or mental images of things going wrong. Our feelings can trigger thoughts and our thoughts can trigger feelings, they are intimately connected.

Each of our emotions serves a purpose, they are telling us something to help us prepare to take action. Anxiety’s purpose can be one of protection, motivation, growth and development, and/or love and belonging. Imagine if you had an unhealthy relationship with your anxiety how that may effect your ability to respond in that moment to the situation triggering the anxiety. I know there is a number of things in my life that I have not done due to avoiding my feelings of anxiety. For example, in the past I wouldn’t step into a gym due to fear of what others may think of my appearance. What my anxiety was trying to tell me was this is a challenging task for you but one that will help you grow and develop. It was probably also wrongly looking out to protect me from a perceived but not an actual threat (other people’s judgements). If I was able to be with my anxiety, understand it’s purpose, I may have given myself the opportunity to go to the gym.

The good news is that despite all your childhood programming you can cultivate a healthy relationship with your emotions. You can do so by doing the following:

Present awareness: Notice your emotions as they arise in the moment. Tune in and listen to them. Learn as much about them as possible. How they feel in your body. The different elements (thoughts, sensations, behavioural urges, etc).

Non-judgemental attitude: Notice them for what they are, a feeling and not what your mind tells you they are (something that’s bad or sign of weakness). Let go of judgemental thoughts. Discover it’s purpose. What is it telling you?

Allow: Let the emotion come and go in it’s own time. Imagine it being a bit like the weather and you the sky noticing it as it rolls in and out again. Just like the weather, your emotions will pass.

Take action: Ask yourself what you need right now and take that action. Not to get rid of your emotion, but to help you be with it as you do what brings richness and vitality to your life.

The above may sound simple but actually can be quite difficult to do on our own when we have been relating to our emotions in one way for so long. There are evidence-based approaches that can assist you in developing a healthy relationship with your feelings that our psychologists at Zest Infusion can deliver.

To get the professional assistance and the psychological tools to build your healthy relationship with your feelings, please contact our lovely reception staff at Zest Infusion on 07 38229983 to make an appointment with one of our fantastic psychologists today.

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