What is the best way to deal with unwanted and unpleasant emotions?

Debunk the myth that showing your emotions is a sign of weakness

From late teens into adulthood, this was my truth: only the strong survive, if I wanted to get ahead in life, I had to ‘suck it up’ and focus on achieving my goals instead of letting my feelings get the better of me.

The concept of embracing the “ups and downs” of life was foreign to me. I genuinely thought it was up to me, to manage those ups and downs. That all I needed was a fighting spirit.

And it was with a fighting spirit and a variety of spirits, I learnt to manage the downs. No time to waste dwelling on unpleasant emotions, I drank and I got sh*t done.

But it was when the alcohol stopped working, I received the gift of desperation and in a moment of grace, stumbled into my journey towards recovery and healing. A good part of that journey to date has been about learning to deal with unwanted, unpleasant emotions.

So, what is the best way?

Acceptance

In a recent guided meditation, the teacher spoke about The Wings of the Bodhisattva. We were gently guided to acknowledge any emotion(s) or discomfort that arose, and were told to treat it with compassion, allowing it stay.

From Buddhist Psychotherapist, Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance

“The two parts of genuine acceptance — seeing clearly and holding our experience with compassion— are as interdependent as the two wings of a great bird. Together, they enable us to fly and be free.”

Today, when the unpleasant emotions arise, instead of instinctively reaching for an instant gratification or a ‘check-out’ button…

I sit in meditation.
I bring awareness to my body.
I scan for where the discomfort starts to stir.
I pay attention to the sensation(s).
At times, I feel terror and it feels downright scary to ‘look’.
I breathe.
I start to visualise; the first wing opens.
It feels protective and I feel safe.
I say to the fear/resentment/grief that arise, “I see you”.
I visualise the second wing opening.
It feels comforting.
I say to the fear/resentment/grief, “You can be here too”.
Then I allow myself to open to whatever that needs to surface for release.
(Best done when you have some privacy, so you can LET IT ALL OUT – ugly crying, ‘weird’ sounds or movements, let your body do what it needs to do.)
‘Looking’ at the unpleasant emotion, I repeat the lines with love and compassion.
“I see you”, “You can be here too”
I do this for as many times as I need.

Address our core needs

Right at the core of it, we all want the same things – To be seen, to be heard, and to be loved just as we are. This applies to the unwanted and unpleasant emotions, they are a part of us.

i) The unpleasant emotion wants to be seen
I acknowledge it and say “I see you”.

ii) It wants to be heard
When ignored, it tries harder to get my attention. When I say “You can be here too”, I allow it to stay and be heard.

iii) It wants to be loved just as it is
I see and hear it, with love and compassion.

References:
https://www.tarabrach.com/unfolding-the-wings-of-acceptance-2/
https://buddhistinquiry.org/article/the-wings-of-the-bodhisattva/



About Celeste

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Battling alcoholism for 20 years, Celeste was stuck in a vicious cycle, unable to see a way out. She likens addiction to being on a hamster wheel, feeling exhausted but unable and too afraid to stop; where the safer option is to continue running.
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