Painful emotions can be challenging to sit with. In an effort to “feel better” and prevent our feelings from “taking over,” many of us try to push away our feelings by avoiding them. If we keep turning our backs to the emotions that are trying to get our attention, we end up ignoring important information about our internal experiences that can help us learn and grow. “Sitting with” our emotions invites us to consider the space between Self and Emotion, and focus on the relationship we want to develop with our emotions. This blog post outlines 5 ways to “sit with” our internal experiences.
- Be mindful of the emotional experience you are having and the thoughts, physical sensations, and behaviours that accompany it. Turning towards our internal experiences allows us to be aware of what we’re experiencing and how we’re responding to that experience.
- Name the emotion(s) you are experiencing. Get as specific as possible. Use a feelings wheel to identify what feeling(s) are present for you.
- Notice the sensations in your body. Is there any part of your body that feels activated or tense? Is that sensation familiar? How long has that sensation been present? When was the last time you felt this sensation?
- Notice the thoughts that you’re having about your current experiences. Are there any strong or repetitive thoughts that are present for you? If someone else was inside your head in this moment, what would they hear? Are you experiencing any thoughts involving self-criticism, shame, or minimization of your current state?
- Notice how the thoughts, physical sensations, and emotions are inviting you to behave. How are these experiences impacting how you’re engaging with others? How are these experiences impacting how you’re choosing to spend your time? How are these experiences impacting how you’re handling or managing current stressors?
- Give up the agenda to “stop feeling this way.” Demonstrating patience for, and acceptance of, our current state allows us to “be with” our experiences without the pressure to feel differently. Acceptance and patience does not mean that you ignore that this experience is difficult. Instead, it means that these difficult experiences deserve the space and time they need. It also reminds you that unpleasant feelings also deserve the attention, time, and space that you give to pleasant ones.
- Now that you’ve recognized what your internal experiences are and how you’re responding to them, practice demonstrating compassion towards yourself and your experiences. Self-compassion involves responding to ourselves in times of difficulty in the same way we would want to respond to a loved one. When someone we love is going through a hard time, we typically try to respond with understanding, kindness, and patience. What we typically don’t do is respond with criticism for how they’re feeling, judgment about how they “should” feel, or by ignoring their needs. For more information on Mindful Self-Compassion, what it is, and how to practice it, click here.
- Demonstrate a sense of non-judgmental curiosity towards your experiences, instead of self-critical interrogation. This approach recognizes that you are separate from your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations, and that you can build a relationship of curiosity, openness, and non-judgment towards these experiences. Some questions to ask the internal experience: What is it like to feel this way? When did you first start feeling this way? Was there something that happened that initially triggered you? Have you felt this way before? What function does this particular thought you’re having serve? What is it that this particular emotion, thought, or physical sensation is trying to communicate with me? What is it that you need most right now?
- Reflect on what your emotions are telling you about your needs. If you’re experiencing a sense of sadness that is fuelled by a feeling of loneliness, this may tell you that you’re needing connection with others. If you’re experiencing anger that is being fuelled by feeling disrespected by someone, this may tell you that you need to set an appropriate boundary with this person. Whatever the feeling may be, there is typically an underlying need that you’d like to have met.
Written by Nikki Sedaghat, Registered Psychotherapist at Balanced Mind and Wellness Inc.
How we relate and respond to our emotions are strongly impacted by our life experiences. It might be helpful to seek out a therapist to support you as you work on improving the ways in which you respond to yourself during difficult times. To learn more about how we can support you with emotional concerns, contact Nikki Sedaghat at firstname.lastname@example.org.