Mistake 3: “Stuffing” negative emotions
When someone causes you pain that is personal, deep and unfair, you feel that you cannot shake the memory and, no matter how hard you try, you cannot wish the enemy well. You want to protect yourself, so you may find yourself wanting to just stop feeling the hurt and to ignore it or stuff it.
If only it were possible to numb negative emotions and still feel the positive ones! The problem is that when you avoid or push down feelings you don’t like, you also shut out the possibility for joy, love and happiness. You become numb all over.
One key step to understanding how to forgive another person, or how to accept grace for yourself, is to understand your own emotions. Yet, we often cover up our own emotions. Sometimes we do so because we aren’t even aware of what our emotions are.
It may sound tough, but it’s time to get down and dirty. If you want to heal and if you want freedom, you are going to need to go into and through your feelings. That means you need to take the time to really feel them.
Some people find this step very easy. “I feel enraged, and I feel like killing that person!” Others find that it takes a little work to get to their feelings. If that describes you, use your thinking brain’s ability to name experiences. Once you learn to name experiences and name your emotions, you’ll find your thinking (neocortex) brain has an easier time helping you to cope and get over these types of upsets.
Emotional honesty is giving up that fear of being emotionally wounded, giving up a bit of that self-protective instinct, and diving right in. It is the strength to own and take responsibility for what we feel, including our pain. By listening to and being aware of our own emotions, we are able to get in touch with what is needed to bring us back into right relationships.
Action Steps: You can take the time now to practice a couple of simple exercises, including one to try out when you are with another person you can trust.
> One: Name the experience.
It can help to simply give the experience a name. When the other person did that painful thing to you, did it feel more like:
- a betrayal
- a loss
- a rejection
- a humiliation
You can think of several situations in your life, and give them one of these four names, until you can really feel the difference between them to the extent that it becomes natural for you to notice which kind of experience you are having.
> Two: Name the feeling.
There are lots of feeling words, and the more we practice using them, the more connected we start to feel with other people—even those who have hurt us. Thinking back over what happened, and the various experiences you had, which of these do you remember feeling? Write down any that apply, and what the situation was.
> If naming the feeling is difficult for you, or even if it’s easy, you can use your body for insight…
Notice where in your physical body that you feel the emotion.
For example, you may not cognitively know that you are angry, however, you may notice that your jaw is clenched, the muscles in your upper arms are taut, and that your stomach is churning. Or maybe you notice you have tightness in your chest, a constricted throat and extra energy in your legs—and later you realize that this signals fear for you.
These combinations of body sensations may not have a name for you now, but as you learn to recognize them, you can become very adept at noticing your body, the feelings the sensations represent, and the thoughts behind them.
This awareness will help you know that you are bigger than your emotions, that it is you who controls them and not vice versa, and that you can harness these emotions to become closer to people.
> Action step with another person. This one will help you move from emotional honesty within yourself to connection with another person.
The next time you feel a negative emotion, one that may make you feel uncomfortable or ashamed, tell someone you trust how you are feeling. Use the richest vocabulary you can to get to a good description. Remember, you can name experiences, name emotions, or simply name physical sensations in your body.
You can gain emotional freedom to the extent that you are able to connect with people you love, and even people you thought you hated.