You Are Not How You Feel: 8 Ways to Create Space With Your Emotions
It’s been a tumultuous week in this country. Emotions are running high and are leaking out like steam under pressure, burning those caught in its path. Anger, fear and doubt are butting heads with celebration, optimism and certainty.
The yoga class I attended this morning ended with a lovely meditation on loving detachment. We so easily identify with our feelings. “I’m scared, therefore this must be dangerous.” “I’m sad, so this loss must be catastrophic.” “I’m angry and you must have done something to provoke that.”
Yet even though we feel these things, we are not these things.
And just because we experience these feelings, it does not mean that they are true.
When we are too close with our emotions, we become perceptively impaired, listening to what is bubbling up from within rather than observing what is around.
Great peace can come from taking a step back, creating space between you and your feelings. Not to deny them or to judge them, but to notice them and accept them.
It’s the difference between standing out in the storm and watching the deluge through the window.
Here are ten ideas on how to come in out of the rain:
1 – Write From a 3rd Party Perspective
When big life stuff happens, we often identify with it. Allow it to curl up and nestle in our hearts like a cat by a hearth. We become that thing that happened. The betrayed. The abandoned. The lost.
I felt all of those things at first. Saw myself as all of those things. And I was tired of it. In a moment of desperation, I turned to my journal and wrote my story, not as myself, but as a 3rd party looking in.
The shift of perspective meant that I couldn’t describe the feelings, only the physical manifestation of the emotions. Instead of waxing on about the pain, I could only comment on the anemic and hollow look in my eyes.
The exercise was so effective at separating me from the overwhelming emotion that I turned to it often during that first year. It was a powerful way to remind me that even though I felt these things, I was not these things.
2 – Pay Attention to the Physical Sensations
Emotions can be elusive. Trying to identify and name them can sometimes feel like trying to catch smoke with a butterfly net. It’s often easier to pay attention to the physical manifestation of certain emotions. The tightness. The shaking. The exhaustion. The upset stomach. The headaches.
Strive to become an expert at recognizing and interpreting your own body’s way of communicating with you. And if that underlying emotion is still too much to face, try addressing it indirectly by attending to the physical manifestations. It’s amazing how much interfering with that feedback loop can help.
3 – Remind Yourself of the Fallibility of Your Emotion
Have you ever been completely worked up about somebody’s response before you even initiate the conversation? *raises hand with a sheepish smile* Your emotions running as wild as a two-year-old on a sugar high? And then the conversation happens. And maybe the response you expected occurs or maybe it doesn’t. But you find, with surprise, that you’re not nearly as reactive as you anticipated.
In some ways, our emotions are quite smart. They prick up their ears when something doesn’t feel right, giving us a warning of impending and subtle danger. They buzz with uneasy energy when things are off kilter and vibrate with anticipation when things are in alignment.
Yet in other ways, our emotions have the intelligence of a guppy. They don’t always learn from experience and they fail to temper their intensity with reason.
In those moments when you’re codependent with your emotional state, remind yourself of those times when your emotions were not an accurate representation of reality and allow yourself the idea that perhaps they are exaggerating now.
4 – Practice Mindfulness
Meditation. Prayer. Repetitive exercise. It doesn’t matter the modality as long as the intent is to practice being in the moment and learning to become at ease with stillness and the twinges of discomfort.
Mindfulness teaches us that emotions come and go. It helps to promote an acceptance of the limitations of control. It reminds us that even though we have limited domain over what enters our mind, we can choose to be a quiet observer. It teaches us to focus on one breath at a time, using rhythm and repetition to soothe. Mindfulness trains us to find the center of calm in a mind wracked with storms.
5 – Name Your Feelings
Once you name something, you have gained a level of understanding of that thing and a sense of perspective. When you’re standing in an emotional storm, seek to identify and name the feelings that you’re having. Not in a judgemental way, but more out of quiet detachment – “Oh, this is loneliness.”
You don’t have to do anything with the feeling. Just recognizing it helps you to see it as a separate entity and it promotes a greater sense of control.
6 – Find Your People
When my divorce happened, I remember believing that I had to be the only person with this experience and with these feelings.
Oh, was I ever wrong.
I felt misunderstood in my usual group of friends and family because there, I was the only one with this particular tale. So I cast a wider net, looking for others that had been through the same. Looking for my people.
And I found them. Unfortunately, more than I ever imagined.
By listening to and reading their stories, I learned that these emotions that seemed so personal were actual a common reaction. And I found comfort in those stormy days in the thought that others had felt this too.
7 – Make Lighthearted Fun
Humor has an immense power to disarm even the most potent foe. When your emotions are beating you down, try making fun of them in a lighthearted way. It shifts your mind and reminds you that it’s usually not all that serious (even when your emotions are trying to tell you otherwise).
8 – Talk it Out
When we try to hide all of our emotion, to lock it away in a deep, dark cupboard, we send ourselves the message that our feelings are something to be ashamed of. And shame is a powerful and malignant force.
Bringing your emotions to light in a safe space helps to provide some distance between you and your feelings. You are no longer responsible for trying to keep them hidden away. Instead, you can let them out where the illumination helps to promote understanding.
Remember, you are not the storm.
You are simply the observer.
The sun is always there within you.