5 steps to smash the pain and shame of negative emotions

“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” — Leonard Cohen

Maybe you are a bit too sensitive.

You feel things like negative emotions on a deeper level than others seem to.

And you’ve been burnt badly for sharing those feelings.

So you learned to hide from the world. Instead of taking a risk on being vulnerable, you retreat into the safety of stuffing negative emotions.

But the hurt’s still there…you try to let it go, yet the old wounds fester.

No surprise, really, the way painful events constantly replay in your mind. And you’re always reliving wretched feelings like abandonment, betrayal, and rejection.

Much as you try to control them, they seem to have a life of their own.

But you know, it’s not actually the feelings that cause your grief.

How you react to negative emotion is the real problem — and that’s a good thing. Because changing your reactions makes it easier to control runaway emotions.

By doing a little advance work before you’re triggered, you can handle negative events with poise.

And with new responses, you’ll find that many of your problem emotions dissolve on their own!

1. Stop running and start dealing

“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.” - Rainer Maria Rilke

From an early age, we are conditioned to avoid painful feelings. And because we’re not trained to deal with them, we resort to suppressing them, brooding, or distracting from them. This creates enormous internal conflict and we flounder in a state of perpetual struggle.

We’re constantly fighting feelings we’re not “supposed” to have — which leads to the idea that we’re what’s flawed. So, we stuff those feelings too, creating even more conflict and reinforcing our identity as inadequate.

It’s contrary to every survival instinct, but to rise above negative emotions, you first have to stop fighting them. The fight, our denial, is what prevents us from moving on. To be free of toxic emotions is to stop running and start dealing with them.

When they arise, use practices like breathwork or mindfulness to stay present. Only then can you face your fears and exercise the power of choice to build a future free of pain, shame, and conflict.

2. Look for the lessons in your discomfort

“Close some doors today. Not because of pride, incapacity or arrogance, but simply because they lead you nowhere.” — Paulo Coelho

The practice of staying present starts a stage of discomfort. All the emotions we’ve suppressed as “bad” are still waiting to be heard and addressed. Lucky for us because they contain vital lessons for our happiness and well being.

Here’s the thing — the discomfort is never as severe as we imagine. And once you’re willing to feel the full range of everything you’ve stuffed — the failure, rejection, shame, and so on — you can take on any situation with confidence.

Whatever changes are required, you can be sure that the only loss you’ll endure are those aspects of yourself that cause disappointment, self-loathing, and suffering.

Instead of suffering in vain, mine your discomfort. It holds a wealth of information about the inaccurate beliefs, biases, and rules that hold you back. What are they telling you? What do you need to let go of, or do more of? Where do you need to accept responsibility, what are you avoiding?

3. Plot a new course

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” — C. S. Lewis

Managing emotional turbulence is a skill that pays huge dividends. This is because our emotions lead to the actions that we will or won’t take, which creates our life experiences now and in the future.

With years of repetition, we hard-wire negativity into our neural circuits, which informs us about what to feel and how to behave. If our emotional life doesn’t change, today will be the same as yesterday. And tomorrow will be the same as today.

To create a new tomorrow, without yesterday’s sad, repetitive crap, we need new responses to emotional triggers — ones that makes us feel better, not worse. This means thinking differently, changing your perspective, and planning for better results.

Brainstorm with a journal or mind map to envision a future self that has gone far beyond emotionally toxicity. On paper, create your ideal self, one that’s emotionally strong, sure, and confident. Then outline your plan to become that person — starting today.

4. Act on your decision

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” ―Dale Carnegie

Once you’re clear on your path, act on it. Announce your intentions, chunk your plan down into actionable steps, set a schedule, and start to work on it. Knowing in advance how you intend to respond to stress before it happens prevents slipping into old patterns.

Get crystal clear on why you want to change, how you’re going to do it, and the tools you’ll use to assist you. Your vision needs support, so strive to act consistently and reinforce it daily.

Journal about it, visualize, talk to friends about it, and most importantly, feel the emotions of having accomplished your goal. And be sure to incorporate new responses to old triggers, ones you can use in the moment as well as long-term solutions.

For example, creating distance from your emotions with breathwork is something that can be done in the moment. Exercises like meditation or yoga aren’t practical in the moment, but their effectiveness at reducing stress and improving emotional regulation is beneficial in the long run.

5. Release the past

“It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.” — Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

For your emotional, mental, and physical well-being, it’s important to release toxic emotions promptly when they arise. Not only will you feel better, letting go also develops emotional resilience and the ability to see events in a new, positive light.

It’s helpful to first identify and own the emotions with “I” language, such as “I’m feeling scared.” This acknowledges what you’re feeling and puts you in control of the situation, not external events or other people.

For many, intense physical activity such as dancing, martial arts, or running works best. Others find relief in calming practices such as breathwork, chanting, EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), journaling, massage, or meditation.

Work to release and replace negative attitudes like complaining and judging as well, because they keep us stuck in the past and feed negativity. Practices such as forgiveness and gratitude are highly effective at releasing negative emotions, thoughts, and energy.

Create a better future

“Did you imagine you could ever be so strong, then watch your fear turn into relief? Your sea of doubt become your own belief?” — Beth Orton

There’s nothing wrong with negative thoughts and emotions.

They can be unpleasant, but they definitely won’t kill us — and there’s value and purpose in their presence.

Holding onto to them is where we get into trouble. And avoiding them is a sure-fire recipe for more pain, shame, and playing small.

So, why not face them instead? Their yours — a highly personal outline of what you’re committed to right now. Use them to correct course and create a better future.

Because it’s not just you who benefits. Your family, friends, and community all profit when you decide for growth and emotional strength.

I promise, it’s not nearly as scary or tough as you imagine!

All you have to do is start.

Make the decision today to be in control of your own emotions.

Then watch, learn, and apply… you’ll be amazed at the personal strength and freedom that results.

And most importantly, you’ll love who you become in the process.

Originally published at https://smarthabitsremarkableresults.com on December 23, 2020.

A life and sobriety coach I assist clients to eliminate negative patterns, crystalize priorities, and attain goals. https://www.smarthabitsremarkableresults.com

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