Making Room for Feelings

It’s not unusual for us to try to deal with our feelings in ways that aren’t helpful.

Broadly speaking, there seem to be three ways to try to cope:

1) We push the feelings away by ignoring or stuffing them down. This is a temporary fix, and can appear to be effective until – oops – we experience a blowup. Or, maybe we ignore our feelings for so long we slide into a deep sadness or depression.

2) We attract the emotions to us and create elaborate stories about them, embellishing them, and actively increasing their effect on us. This method has the illusion of dealing with feelings, and can be harmful because it nurtures and feeds our anger or fear.

3) We project them onto others – either through blaming other people for causing our feelings, or by imagining that others possess these same emotions.

One of the ways I have found helpful when I am having unwanted feelings is to welcome them in. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) suggests that making space for difficult emotions has the effect of softening them. Uncomfortable feelings will arise throughout our lives, and trying to avoid them may create new worries, or worsen the current ones.

So, how do we welcome the feelings?

First, sit in a comfortable chair with your feet on the floor, and your hands on your thighs. Close your eyes if you like. Explore the feelings gently by observing their effect on your body. Do you feel tightness in your chest? A constriction in your throat? A pain in your stomach?  Do your feelings have a particular temperature, intensity, or sense of movement?

Second, breathe into the places that are calling you.

Third, rest with the feelings until you sense that they’ve settled. If other feelings arise, work with them.

If you’d like to learn more about accepting feelings, check out The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris.