Disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional. Please seek professional help if you feel you need to. This article is not meant to diagnose, treat or otherwise instruct you on how you should tend to your physical or mental health.
Those emotions you have, they are coming up for a reason. To be felt by you. To be acknowledged by you. To be seen and heard and understood.
Story Time: Years ago, when I was still living with my parents, I stood up into a cupboard door in their kitchen. *OUCH!!!* Rage rose up out of me with such force that I didn't even really think about it. I grabbed the garbage can, (the nearest thing to me) picked it up, and slammed it to the ground with as much force as my small frame could muster.
That was during a time in my life before I had started deconstructing my beliefs, the unhelpful programs I was running internally before I had even begun to realize that I had been suffocating my emotions and my true self for most of my life. I was living unconsciously.
Throwing a garbage can because I'd accidentally hurt myself is just a small sample of the rage and violence that expressed when I was triggered. And I was triggered often. I was miserable, hateful, judgemental and I had no idea why until I was in my 30's when I finally started allowing myself to FEEL what I needed to feel. And I finally started to heal.
* * *
I like to think of my emotions as conscious little beings that need my attention. They are quite like children who are yelling from the playground, "Look, Mama!" Or toddlers with an injury that need some loving, hugging, and care...sleepy or hungry little kids who don't quite know how to express what they are feeling, they just know something is uncomfortable.
When we experience trauma or loss or just feel triggered by something, often times we don't really give ourselves the space necessary to feel the emotions that come up alongside those events. Maybe it's not convenient at the moment...maybe we are afraid that if we truly let ourselves feel, we will lose our mind and end up in the looney bin...maybe we think feeling all the things is a sign of weakness. Or that it's unspiritual. Maybe it's just too damn painful and we don't want to have to think about any of that again.
There are many reasons why we do what we do with our emotions, but it's common to ignore, repress or pretend like they don't exist. So, the emotions we should have felt in the moment get stored in our bodies like prisoners who've done no wrong. And storing them can show up as pain, disease, unstable mental behavior, inability to focus, and other things.
How Do We Heal These Emotions?
I want to be very clear.
Your emotions won't disappear. At least not while you are in physical form. They are not meant to go away. It's part of our experience as human beings. And emotions are helping to teach us things...if we want to learn.
What can and does happen with emotions if we choose to allow it, is that they become a friend to us rather than an enemy to fight off or ignore.
Anger may still come up, but it doesn't envelop you and take you over like burning hot coal. Fear may rise up, but it doesn't paralyze you. Sadness may say hello, but it won't make you want to end it all.
Over time, with trust and non-judgment, emotions can even become so subtle, you aren't affected by them in an adverse way. You and your emotions have to both become so trusting of each other, so accepting of each other's presence that they are sensed more like an understanding...an awareness rather than a distraction or something to get rid of.
When you have mastered the art of becoming a true observer of your reality rather than a reactor, emotions and you work together to navigate this human experience.
The following headings will be about specific ways that I've found helpful with healing my own emotions.
Your Emotions Aren't Wrong or Bad
First things first.
You are going to have to come to terms with the fact that there is nothing wrong with "negative" or uncomfortable emotions. If you can't do that, healing won't happen. Culture, religion, upbringing, hurrying through life all can teach us some of the most judgemental ideas about emotions and cause us to live painful, unhealed lives.
Emotions themselves are not wrong. Or bad. Or evil.
Repressed emotions can make a person lash out in rage or violence or addiction, but it is not the emotion's fault if these things happen. It's not your fault either. It is just a symptom of repression. However, it's not an excuse to go out and be an asshole and then blame you trying to heal your emotions for it.
Accepting and allowing your emotions to express also means that you take responsibility for your actions. Use self-control over emotions if you feel like you might want to become violent in any way. If you allow yourself to heal by expressing your emotions in a safe and healthy way, you won't feel the urge to be violent anyway.
When we dismiss and ignore emotions they build pressure inside that jail cell we pack them into like sardines. Over time, without properly allowing and accepting them the pressure builds to a point where it needs to relieve itself.
This can happen if someone cuts you off in traffic...it's really not a big deal, but emotions use the experience as an excuse to let out a little pressure. Or it may happen during an argument and you end up throwing something or saying words that you regret later. It's possible that it will even express for something as simple as your hair not working right and you end up smashing your own head with your hairbrush. Personal experience talking here.
If you build trust and give your emotions enough attention and a safe, non-judgemental space to be expressed, they won't unexpectedly jump out of you like a naked psycho running through the streets at midnight.
I know you've had one of those moments where the outburst you had surprised or even scared you because it felt so uncalled for. I certainly have.
The only reason our emotions show up in such drastic, unexpected ways like that is that they are pretty pissed off that we've been ignoring them for so long.
Sometimes, we can repress emotions so hard that we even become numb and it seems like there are no emotions left at all. Don't worry, they are there. They've just given up talking to you for the time being. When we are ready, we can tell them that it's safe to come out and that we won't judge them or shut them down. This may take some repeated efforts, but eventually, they will surface and you will be able to communicate with them. Just don't force them.
Again, please hear me.
Your emotions are NOT evil, bad, or wrong. And neither are your thoughts.
Making Friends with Emotions
Having a relationship with emotions can be a lot like having relationships with people. In order to have a healthy relationship with another human being, you have to spend time with them. And that's because spending time with a person helps you to get to know them, especially when you both share different types of experiences together.
Getting to know someone creates trust. And you need to trust someone to be able to open up to them and share parts of yourself with them.
Sometimes people just need a shoulder to cry on, or a safe space to vent and be angry. Many times those we love don't really want advice or solutions, they just want to talk. To be heard. To have someone in their corner. All you have to do then is be there. Sit with them. Look them in the eyes as they share with you, hold them if they want it. Bring them a cup of something warm to drink or a soft blanket to cuddle.
Emotions want that too.
When a person you are close to is sharing hard shit with you, it may be uncomfortable. You might feel fidgety. You might want them to leave. You might want to try and "fix" it for them or try to smooth it over by using words that bypass. You might even be angry with them because they continue to bring up the same old things over and over again.
Don't do that to a person.
And don't do that to your emotions.
Dismissing your emotions because they make you uncomfortable is no different than cutting off a friend mid-sentence or distracting yourself in your phone while they talk. If you roll your eyes at your emotions when the same feelings come up time and time again, you create distrust with them. And when you create distrust, it's hard to hear and understand them.
All the things you do in order to have a healthy relationship with a person you need to do with your emotions. Treat them with respect. Listen to them even if they repeat themselves. Spent time with them and don't judge them.
Be Curious About Emotions and Listen To Them
It can be helpful to be curious about our emotions too. Like, I wonder where that came from? I wonder if there is something I need and that's why I'm feeling like this? Do I feel controlled, misunderstood, suppressed, abused? Do I want something that I am not getting? Am I being my authentic self right now? Do I feel like I am really able to express myself the way I want to around the people I know? Am I hiding from who I really know myself to be? Or maybe I don't know who I really am so I feel frustrated and that manifests as anger.
Sometimes there may not seem like a reason for an emotion that we are experiencing, but there always is.
Underneath that anger is something that caused the emotion to appear in the first place. If it's road rage that triggered the anger, it's probably not the other driver causing the issue. It's something from our past. Or, something that may be completely unrelated to the drivers you share the road with or any driver in general.
Maybe the road rage surfaced because you feel like there are obstacles in life on your way to getting where you want to go, so another driver feels like one of those obstacles as you head to work in the morning when you are already late.
No one can tell you how or where your emotions were born, only you can do that. And you can only do that if you are curious and start asking some questions. Talk to them like you would talk to a child when you are trying to understand them. Be patient because sometimes emotions, just like children, don't know the right words to use or can't quite put a finger on them yet.
When something arises that makes you feel uncomfortable...whether that be anger, sadness, anxiety, depression, fear...it's coming up because something triggered them to re-emerge and shout from their jail cell. Emotions aren't there to annoy you, they are trying to make you aware of something.
A circumstance may have come up that triggered them to speak up, hormones could have triggered it, or an injury, or maybe your read or heard something, or one of your senses reminded them that they have been ignored since they were first created and then stored in your body.
This shouting from your emotions is trying to get your attention because one of these little emotional consciousnesses is in need.
If you take the time to sit, by yourself without ANY other distractions and simply FEEL these emotions that are coming up...sit through the discomfort...the pain...the fear...the uncertainty and just let them be and express, they will tell you something.
If you don't have time to be with your emotions when they come up, all you need to do is be present for a second, tell them that you need to tend to these other things right now but that you will come back to them when you are in a place where you can give them your full attention. And trust me, they will come back. But be respectful enough to address them on the spot. It's no different than sending a text to a friend that you know saw the message and your friend not even taking the time to say, "Hey, I'm busy right now but I will get back to you."
What Does it Mean to "Sit" With My Emotions?
When you "sit" with a friend to listen to them because they need you, hopefully, your phone is on silent and you mentally shelve anything that you have been wrapped up with and give your friend your full attention. Everything else can wait.
You are facing them, you are open to them, you are not trying to make a point or hurry them along to the next subject. You are letting them get everything out that they need to get out. You wait for them patiently...maybe giving them a pat on the shoulder every now and then or holding their hand to let them know that you care for them. You nod when you understand what they are saying.
Sometimes your friend will need you in the middle of the night when you would be sleeping, but because you love your friend, sleep can wait.
And notice that after your friend is done being angry or crying and all their words are out...their shoulders sink, there is calm in the room and even a feeling of being clear or freer. This means that they have fully expressed their emotions for the time being. The emotions now feel much more at ease that they have been heard.
Do this for your own emotions.
You may have to tell your partner to take care of the kids while you hunker down in the vehicle outside for a while. If you are a single parent you may have to call a friend or family member to take care of the kids or wait until they are sleeping. You may, if you are able, have to take a day off of work. You may have to rearrange your schedule. You may have to cancel plans with someone.
If you do any shopping for leisure, if you spend time at the gym, if you scroll through social media, if you play video games or go out with friends...you have time.
If you cannot find even a shred of time during waking hours, you may have to set aside sleep. Remember, sometimes your friend will call you in the middle of the night when they need you.
This is no different.
If you want emotional healing, you will have to make changes, there is no way around that.
Giving Emotions A Safe Space
Something that has been helpful to me with healing my emotions is after I sit with them for a while, after I cry or get angry and a little bit of calm and peace comes in, I talk to them like I would talk to someone that I deeply care for. Now and then I close my eyes and imagine myself at the age or during the time when a trauma happened.
In my mind's eye, I sit down with my younger self and hold her, brush her hair and tell her what I wish I would have been told then, at that moment. Or, I just imagine that my emotions are an entity of sorts...something without form, but if some kind of form works for you go ahead. The point is, to speak to yourself or your emotions directly as you would to another person.
And if you want, try something like this:
If you are triggered emotionally and don't know why, say, "I don't know why emotions are surfacing like this right now. I'm feeling like I am in the dark. I feel like you are keeping secrets from me. I'm not going to demand that you tell me right here, right now. But I am telling you that I am aware that you are here, I am going to allow myself to feel you and when you are ready, you can tell me why I am feeling this way."
If there is a specific trauma or loss you can say, "I'm so very sorry that this happened to you. It wasn't right. It's not okay. You have every right to feel the way you feel about it. I'm sorry that I wasn't there for you in a bigger way...in the way you needed right then. I'm sorry that other people didn't help you or listen to you the way that you needed. But I'm here now. I'm listening now. You have my full permission to feel however you need to feel. I'm not going to ignore you anymore. I'm not going to hide you away. Let's get through this together."
If you judge your thoughts and emotions try saying, "I'm sorry that I've judged you in the past and made you out to be wrong or evil. I'm sorry that I was afraid of letting you talk to me. I'm sorry for letting the pain I didn't want to feel get in the way of our relationship. Let's do our best to trust each other from now on."
What Happens if You Don't Know Why?
It happens, and more often than people will admit, but sometimes we can sit and sit and sit with the emotion and it will not tell us why it is there. It's secretive and elusive or shy.
This can be super frustrating, "Like, what the fuck dude! I gave you all this time to speak up and you're silent?! Come on!" All of that is okay to feel too. That is another emotion speaking. We've got lots of them all active at the same time, sometimes speaking over one another or fighting for attention.
Here's the deal.
Maybe you aren't ready. Maybe, your emotions just don't trust you yet. You have to be okay with that. In the past, you've broken the trust between you and your emotions...because you told them they were wrong. You judged them. You hid them and pretended to others like they didn't exist. You didn't give them what they needed at the moment. They were too painful to face so you ignored them.
All of that is okay. You are not bad.
But because of the broken trust, your emotions may need some time before they let you in on their secrets...because for them, it is also painful. They want to talk with you and let you in on it, but they are afraid that you might turn on them and shut them up or blame them like they are used to you doing.
It might take some time for you to show them that you aren't going to do that anymore. That you are in it for the long haul. In some cases, you will need to build that trust for quite a while.
There are certain feelings that have come up in me for YEARS that I am FINALLY starting to gain some trust with. These emotions are ones that I have actively given time and love and attention to. For a long time, they would not reveal even their origin let alone the details involved in why they are still traumatized.
We HAVE to be okay with that.
We have to be okay with the healing taking as long as it takes. This isn't something to be rushed. And yes, that yoga teacher who shits rainbows and levitates is working on healing too. We're all human. And humans have emotions.
Be Honest With Yourself
If you read all of this and still feel like you don't have time to make an effort, or that somehow you are an exception to the rule and you can't be healed, or that you've been trying for a long time but nothing is working...
Ask yourself if you actually want to have a good relationship with your emotions or if you actually want to be healed.
Doing this work is hard as fuck.
It takes a LOT of dedication and patience. It can't be rushed or forced. Only allowed.
Healing means you take responsibility for the process. It means letting go of playing the victim. It means coming to terms with the possibility that continuing in an unhealed state may give you benefits that you won't get if you are healed.
You are not wrong or bad for any of this, but don't lie to yourself about reality.
If you are getting something out of the suffering you are in, then it's quite possible that you are attached to what you are getting from being a victim. I've done it. Everyone has done it. We don't blame ourselves for doing that. Of course, we want to feel good so we attach to things that are the easiest to benefit from.
But true healing doesn't come through that.
If you become aware that you are keeping healing at arm's length because you are receiving some kind of benefit in life by continuing to be a victim in your mind, you have two choices.
One: know that there is a lot of hard work to do internally, that it won't happen overnight and then make a decision that you will let go of unhealthy attachments to benefit so you can take part in the REAL benefit of being free inside.
Two: chose to remain in the state that you are in but OWN that shit. You are not wrong for making this choice. It is your life. Do with it what you please. BUT - do not lie to yourself and others by saying that it is not working for you to heal or that you can't for some reason. Consciously making this choice and owning it is freedom in itself as opposed to pretending or lying.
And Then You Let It Go
There comes a point when you've sat with, given safe space to, and felt all of your emotions and it's time to let that shit go. Maybe it's time to let it go for now until next time...or maybe it's time to let it go for good.
Sometimes, because we've become such good friends with certain stories from our past it can lead to becoming attached to them in a codependent way. We don't want to let them go, even though they've been healed. They've become familiar and safe.
I can't tell you when it's time to let go. Only you will know that. But there is peace with it. You might feel discomfort or nervous about the unknown of letting go, but you will just know that it's time.
What I can tell you is that this cycle of feeling and letting go, and feeling and letting go will go on for the rest of your life.
It's literally never done. It's just less and less intense as each cycle passes.
As soon as you realize that and stop trying to fight the cycle, the easier all of this will become.