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.


Thank you for sharing!

6 thoughts on “You Are Not How You Feel: 8 Ways to Create Space With Your Emotions

  1. Mary Lou – I'm still here and loving it! Nostalgia isn't my all-time favorite past time. I like to live in the present and look forward. When you reach a certain point in life it's good to look back and review this journey with new eyes ~ in a different place in time. I've arrived at a place in my life where the experiences I've had are coming together to form a collage of beauty and strength. A time where I can put a little more time into my love for water color painting and writing. Creating this website allows me to share some of the expressions of my gratitude and amazement of where this journey has taken me. It's my hope that it will encourage others to share their own story through written word and art.
    Mary Lou says:

    This is really a good process to follow through all this. I can relate to all of it. In face, I put a status on Facebook asking people to step back and detach for awhile. There are so many making fun of those who are experiencing fear, anger, sorrow, etc. that I’m reluctant to reblog this. We’re ‘cry babies’, whiners…..

    1. JoAnna – On the East Coast of the USA – An open minded, tree-hugging Jesus follower, former counselor, and life-long lover of animals, I'm returning to my creative roots and have published my first book: Trust the Timing, A Memoir of Finding Love Again as well as the short version: From Loneliness to Love.
      JoAnna says:

      When someone makes fun of another’s pain, that’s just mean. I don’t want to care what people like that think about me, though it might hurt a little. Their opinions are of very little value to me, like 2 cents.

      1. What I see so often is people judging pain – “My pain is worse than yours because…” or “You shouldn’t feel that way because you haven’t been through…” Drives me crazy. There’s a way to recognize and respect pain without enabling it.

        I like to think of it in terms of a parent’s reaction to a toddler who has just taken a tumble. You wouldn’t say to the frightened and bruised child that, “It didn’t hurt.” Nor is it prudent to overreact with “Oh, you poor baby. That must hurt so, so much.” Instead, you stay calm, assess the situation (and help them assess it) and help them process the fear and the pain so that they can keep moving.

        I think we can aim for that response with adults too. Only maybe without the superhero bandaids:)

  2. JoAnna – On the East Coast of the USA – An open minded, tree-hugging Jesus follower, former counselor, and life-long lover of animals, I'm returning to my creative roots and have published my first book: Trust the Timing, A Memoir of Finding Love Again as well as the short version: From Loneliness to Love.
    JoAnna says:

    Reblogged this on Loving Me, Too and commented:
    Helpful suggestions and great analogies in this article.

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