Staying With Emotion

“Imagine that emotion is like a wave in the ocean. It comes towards you, breaks and recedes.”

I love this quote. It makes so much sense to me to think of our emotions as a wave in the ocean. In understanding that a feeling won’t last forever, it allows us to fear it less. I’ve adjusted this analogy over the years and use it quite often in my therapy practice as a way to help my clients work with emotion.

So often we avoid our emotions. There can be many reasons for this — it may come from fear or discomfort, it may be that we were raised with a message that feelings don’t matter, there could be a variety of reasons. Whatever the reason, it is important that we learn to stay with and tolerate our emotions. They are there for a reason and are part of the human experience. The more we avoid our feelings, the more we tend to experience overwhelm, anxiety, depression and difficulty at work or in our relationships.

Learning to allow our emotions to run their course can be a scary task. There is not necessarily a ‘right’ way to feel your feelings, but I put together a few ideas to at least help start the process. If any of these ideas help you to slow down and pay more attention to how you’re feeling, then that's a great place to start.

1 - Notice

Pay attention to what is going on with you. In a fast paced world with a million ways to distract ourselves, we often lose touch with what is going on in our inner world. Start simply by paying more attention to how you are feeling. Take stock of whats going on with you every now and then - you could even write it down. This will help you to connect more with your inner world.

2 - Stay There

When you feel an emotion coming in… stay with it. This is the hardest part for most of us. Often, it is the moment right when we start to feel a feeling that we want to run away from it. It is uncomfortable, maybe we don’t know what it is that we feel exactly. STAY there. Allow whatever feeling is coming up to come up… be curious. What is this feeling? Try to name it. You may find yourself wanting to push it away, thats ok… just notice that… and stay.

3 - Let it Recede

After you have found the courage to stay in your feeling… maybe you named it, maybe you were able to attach a meaning to it or maybe you just felt whatever it was and it eventually faded away. Once you have allowed this feeling to come through… now is a good time to also make a point of letting it go. Since you didn’t avoid your feelings and you found a way to stay with it and honor it, you can more easily let it go. You can silently commend yourself for feeling the feeling and move on.

Just like waves in the ocean…. let your feelings come toward you, break and recede. If it helps, you could also use the visual of actual waves in the ocean to help guide you. Imagine the wave (feeling) coming towards you, then washing over you (staying) and finally receding (letting go). Visualizing can be a powerful tool.

I hope this mini-guide helps you to think about your emotions in a new way. If you have found the practice of feeling your feelings difficult or need a little support, counseling can be a great way to help unlock pent up emotion/stress and learn to manage it in a healthy way. Don't be afraid to reach out to a therapist - we are here to help!

Melissa Grohs, Licensed Professional Counselor

450 Park Street, Suite 105, Alameda, CA


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