Getting to know your emotions

How’s your heart today? Can you name the emotion that’s rising to the surface?

After our conversation about how important emotional granularity is to our healing, I thought I’d follow up with what comes next. Ya know, once we identify the emotion what do we do with it?

Because we’ve all been taught to judge our emotions. We label some emotions like joy, love, happiness, peace, serenity, and belonging as GOOD. These are the ones we’re “supposed” to feel if we’re doing things right. And often they’re treated as a destination. You “achieve happiness” like it’s the little blue dot on the map that you’ve been trying so hard to reach. Instead of recognizing that happiness comes and goes just like any other emotion. It’s the sweetness and beauty in a bittersweet, ‘brutiful’ life (thanks Glennon Doyle).

And then there are the BAD emotions like anger, hate, jealousy, fear, sorrow, grief, guilt, and shame. These are the ones we’re “supposed” to avoid if we’re doing things right. They’re supposed to be a blip on the radar of our happy lives. And because they’re uncomfortable we push them away. We end up in a street fight with these emotions trying to punch, kick, and claw our way back to bliss.

Just think about the eleventy billion memes and quotes dedicated to “fighting our fear”.

And this leaves our minds in a constant state of tension. Always on guard against the next bad emotion. Wobbling drunkenly between the “good” and the “bad” and feeling guilty when the “bad” ones “win”.

But maybe there’s an easier way than always being at war with ourselves.

Maybe we can befriend all our emotions, accept all the parts of ourselves, and integrate them into an experience that allows us to be…fully human.

What does that look like?

The brilliant Liz Gilbert has given us a road map to befriending our emotions when she courageously and vulnerably shared how she learned to deal with her fear.

Liz also explains how amazing it can be to let your fear (or anything other emotion) write TO you. You can see that your fear is neither infinite nor bottomless but usually has 2 or 3 very specific concerns.

Have you ever had a conversation with your emotions? Given them a voice and space to be heard? It’s amazing what shifts when we acknowledge and accept that there will always be a part of us that’s afraid (or angry or anxious) and that’s okay. Fear has a job to do, it’s not a design flaw, it’s intentional and essential AND that doesn’t mean we need to let it steer our lives.

Recently, my coach, Kat, and I were talking about how I was always hitting a wall when it came to launching things in my business. I was “the Queen of 90% done” and every time I was about to cross the finish line I’d hit this wall. I tried to shimmy around it, climb over it, punch through it but nothing worked.

Eventually, I asked the wall why it was there. And I intuitively knew it was here to slow me down and protect me from burning out again. I’m used to going at warp speed.

The wall was asking me to slow down – I had just moved and I needed to take the time to settle into my new home and community. To take a minute to simply ENJOY life before rushing on to the next thing. To take a walk on the beach now that it’s right outside my door.

By slowing down and respecting my wall I’ve found new inspiration to revisit my coaching membership and I get to bring a whole new fully refreshed energy to finishing it (hit reply if you’re interested in learning more about this group!) 

Because the part of me that was holding back was digging in her heels for a reason. And instead of dragging her forwards and pushing through (like I have in the past), I found a way to respect her needs AND keep moving towards my goals.

If these conversations seem a little weird – I get it.  

Sometimes a little personification helps.

Because it’s really no different than the mental negotiations we have with ourselves about whether or not to go to yoga after work or wake up early so we can meditate or go for a run.

If it helps, you can create a character for your emotion. Remember that Disney movie Inside Out? There were characters for anger, disgust, fear, sadness, and joy. They were always present in Riley’s mind and they each had a vital role to play.

For example, I have Sabotage Sally (maybe you’re familiar with her too?) and I can EXPECT her to show up whenever I try something new or decide to be vulnerable.  Instead of a catfight I simply welcome her back, hand her some popcorn, and remind her that while she doesn’t get to drive the bus she can still enjoy the show while I try this new thing.

Okay, it’s your turn.

Ready to give it a try? Grab a pen and paper.

  1. Choose one emotion. It doesn’t have to be a negative emotion. It could be fear, guilt, shame, or grief or it could be love, health, joy, or ease.
  2. Set a timer for 10 min
  3. Allow the emotion you’ve chosen to write to YOU. No censoring or judging. Let it express why it’s here, what it wants or what it doesn’t want.
  4. Then set a timer for another 10 min.
  5. This time you can respond to your emotion. Remember to be respectful. Thank your emotion for its concerns and insights like you would a friend and then tell it what you’ll do now.

Energy follows thought. So the more we can welcome all parts of ourselves the calmer our minds will be.

If we want more inner peace (and who doesn’t?) we need to stop beating up the parts of ourselves that we don’t like. Embrace the emotions that are uncomfortable and integrate everything into the messy complexity of being fully human and alive in a brutiful world.

p.s.  Here’s some bonus journal questions

  1. What is this emotion pointing you towards?
  2. How is this emotion inviting you to expand or heal?
  3. How can you be more compassionate with this part of yourself?

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