Feeling Negative Emotions? Just Let Them Be

Thursday, April 3, 2014

I am currently being trained by Martha Beck to become a Martha Beck Certified Life Coach.  I absolutely love learning and this certification is exactly what I need to continue to expand and hone my coaching skills.   A big piece of this training revolves around our mind-body awareness; that is, being observant of your mind, body, and emotions so you can access and live your most fulfilled life.  I’ve learned a lot these past few weeks about how our mind often tries to mask things our body is trying to tell us so we lose that awareness of our body and our emotions.  Our bodies hold incredible amounts of information about our true selves, our desires, our fears; yet, because we are intellectual beings and spend a lot of time in our heads, we can lose the connection to the information within our bodies and to what we are feeling.  Our mind is there to rationalize, intellectualize and make sense of everything – to protect us and ensure we are safe.  Our minds are so powerful that they often “take over” and prevent us from allowing important things, like emotions, to flow through our bodies.

What I’ve learned is that by paying more attention to what our bodies are trying to tell us, we experience less suffering and dissatisfaction in our lives.   Our bodies house our emotions, which, more simply, are “energy in motion”.  When we feel them (good or bad) they need to flow.  Yet, we often don’t allow emotions flow or be felt, especially those such as anger, fear, sadness or frustration (anything considered “negative”).  When we stifle these emotions, they can get stuck in our bodies and manifest themselves in different ways; illness, injury or pain, to name a few.   They can also create ongoing feelings like dissatisfaction or discontentment.

For me personally, this has been a huge realization.  I spend so much time in my head doing things like analyzing, planning, or rationalizing that I seldom focus on my emotions, let alone what my body is feeling.  If I sense I’m dissatisfied or frustrated and stop to ask myself what I’m actually feeling in my body or what the emotion is in that given moment, my habitual reply would be “nothing”, and I’d continue on to the next task I have on my “list of things to do”.  For me, “doing” is my mind’s task-oriented way of masking negative emotions that need to flow.  However, if I stop and sit with the questions, “What am I feeling? Is that tension in my shoulders? My neck? What is my body trying to tell me about this discomfort I sense, this unsettling feeling?”  I end up with answers about feelings that are usually uncomfortable and that normally contain self-judgment.

For example, if I recognize that I’m feeling frustration or sadness about something occurring in my life, I will say to myself, “Why are you feeling that? Don’t focus on that – everything is fine”.  This self-judgment doesn’t allow the emotion to flow and, when this happens enough times, it causes that emotion to get stuck somewhere in my body.  This eventually manifests in the form of pain or discomfort in my body (for me back pain and neck or shoulder tension is common) or even as an illness.  It can also manifest as general dissatisfaction or unhappiness.  However, when I learn to accept all emotions, be present with them, not judge them, allow them to be and not label them as good or bad, they will move through my body and move on – they will not get stuck.   Emotions are not good or bad until we label them as such.  They are simply information for us to understand how something (a thought, circumstance, or belief) is impacting us in that moment.

What I’ve learned in my classes lately is the importance of not resisting ANY emotion (good or bad) but just letting myself sit with it, feel it, let it flow, cry if I need to, laugh if that is what arises, use a punching bag if I need to – just BE with the emotion so it can do what it is designed to do: be energy in motion.    I can honestly tell you I’ve never been someone to allow negative emotions to flow. I judge them and tell myself there’s no need to focus on them and I move on, busying myself so I do not “feel” them.  I ignore the sensations in my body (that arise from the emotion) and allow my mind to take over; yet, those emotions are information that needs to be acknowledged, felt and allowed so I can learn, grow, and live a more satisfied and free life.    Recognizing this and practicing allowing my emotions to flow has enabled me to feel lighter and freer each day.  Sadness, frustration and anger are not bad – they are just indicators that something is having an impact on me.  They are information. Period.  They might not be fun to experience but when I actually let myself feel them, they don’t stick around. They move through my body and are gone.  If I resist them, they not only stick around but also end up manifesting themselves in my body in forms of physical discomfort or general dissatisfaction.   I’ve always known that what we resist will persist but never realized that resisting negative emotions also fit into that category.  If we resist them, they will persist.  If we can allow them to just be without judging them, they will move on – I am living proof of this.  The next time you feel an uncomfortable emotion arising, just let it be.  Sit with it for a few minutes without labeling or judging it.  I promise you it will move on, if you allow it.

One disclaimer to add (which I also learned in my class): when experiencing big life changes or losses, sometimes emotions need lots of time and repetition to flow through your body.  Experiencing sadness over loss of a loved one will likely happen repeatedly over the course of time; again, the idea is to not stifle it but each time you feel it, simply let it be.

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