Intense emotions such as anxiety, sadness, anger, shame, embarrassment, or guilt can quickly take us over and create emotional suffering. Right now, you might be experiencing an intense emotion but don’t know how to deal with it. Maybe you are using distraction to cope but the moment you stop the distraction the intense emotion floods back. At night you are unable to sleep and the intensity is unbearable in the silence of night.
So how do we let go of emotional suffering and cope more effectively?
First of all, you need to throw away all the ineffective strategies that you have been using such as distraction, drinking alcohol, resisting or blocking the intensity, and trying to focus on the “light at the end of the tunnel.” All of these strategies only offer a band aid solution and do not help you let go of emotional suffering.
Below is a four step process that teaches you how to let go of emotional suffering. When you follow these steps, you begin the process of transforming emotional suffering and regulating the intensity.
STEP 1: OBSERVE YOUR EMOTION
- You might start by NOTING its PRESENCE. What are you feeling? Try to identify the name of the emotion. Is it anger, fear, sadness, shame, etc. What is it?
- Once you have identified the emotion, STEP BACK to observe it.
- Get UNSTUCK from the emotion. Intense emotions stick to us like glue. When we step back from the emotion by practicing mindfulness meditation techniques, we get unstuck from the emotion.
STEP 2: EXPERIENCE YOUR EMOTION FULLY
I know it sounds counterintuitive to experience an intense emotion fully. All of us automatically try to use distraction to cope with intense emotions. But, unfortunately, distraction does not work because intense emotions require the opposite solution.
- Visualize the emotion as a WAVE, coming and going.
- Try not to BLOCK the emotion.
- Try not to PUSH the emotion AWAY.
- Do NOT try to INCREASE the emotion.
- Just be a WITNESS to your emotion.
STEP 3: REMEMBER, YOU ARE NOT YOUR EMOTION
Ah, this is a very important step. When I get to this step with my clients a light bulb goes off and they start understanding the power of this process.
Here is what I instruct my clients to do:
- Do Not ACT on the sensation of urgency. Do Not take the emotion to be the truth. Do Not do what it is driving you to do. For example, “do not write that angry email, do not research your medical symptoms online, do not apologize because you feel guilty, and do not isolate yourself.
- Remember when you have felt DIFFERENT. Last week, you may have felt happy. Remember all the moments in your life when you have felt differently.
- Describe your emotion by saying “I have the feeling of _______”, rather than, “I am ____.”
- Do NOT make an identity out of the emotion by saying, “I am angry, I am anxious, I am embarrassed. I am sad.” Say instead, “I have the feeling of anxiety.”
- Notice OTHER feelings you have at the same time that you feel the strong emotion. Maybe right now you feel extremely anxious but took a hot bath and feel calm.
STEP 4: PRACTICE RESPECTING, LOVING YOUR EMOTION
I love this step, but you cannot get to step four or even understand it until you work the other three steps. Practicing respecting, loving the intense emotion that creates suffering for you is the ultimate transformative factor. I cannot tell you how powerful this is. Resistance creates more and more suffering and our culture trains us to resist our emotions, to fight our emotions, but never to accept them. If you cannot respect the emotion or love the emotion, then at least look at it with curiosity or interest. What is the intensity trying to tell you, what is it trying to teach you or show you?
- Don’t JUDGE your emotion as “good or bad.” Just let it be in its current form. When we judge the emotion as good or bad, we add more fuel to the fire and it burns more strongly.
- Practice WILLINGNESS with your emotion. Be willing to understand more about the emotion, to see it as a teacher, to respect it, to care for it. Be willing to take care of it, to support it and to soothe it.
- Radically ACCEPT your emotion. Go so deeply that you accept the emotion as if you chose it, as if it was your choice, as if this is what you wanted. I know this sounds crazy and so counterintuitive that you cannot believe someone who is educated would write such as a thing, but trust me when I say this is the ultimate way out of suffering.
- If you want to completely let go of emotional suffering, then you must accept the emotion as if it was your choice.…
Contact me: If you would like coaching on how to let go of emotional suffering, please contact me through my website to schedule an appointment.
One thought on “How to Let Go of Emotional Suffering”
I have always felt suffering of the body and even intense physical pain can be difficult to live with especially when it is chronic but who can stand before emotional suffering? I marvel that you recommend not pushing the pain away.What can we do when it seems the pain will never go away?Thank you Dr. Dickson for the article.