Updated: Jun 19, 2019
Every emotion we experience is connected to a behavioural charge, and it is often not helpful to act on that urge immediately.
But it is easier said than done.
We have an in-built tendency to go towards or ‘seek’ emotions and experiences in life that are pleasurable for us and avoid those which are painful. And that makes sense!
For example, if something brings us joy we probably want to do it again, and if something makes us frightened or anxious, we want to escape.
This natural inclination is something that we don’t want to fully eliminate. All emotions serve a function regardless of whether they are enjoyable experiences.
For example, if we couldn’t feel anxiety then we wouldn’t run when we are in danger, or we may let others walk all over us if we don’t get angry when they treat us badly.
So why make friends with those ‘negative’ emotions?
Because no matter how much we want to, we can’t get rid of them.
If we have never had the opportunity to learn to regulate and tolerate emotions, we can fall into unhelpful ways of coping, for example, drinking alcohol to numb thoughts and feelings.
Completely ignoring an emotion may work for us in the short term because putting off that feeling in the moment may create a sense of relief. Because of this, running from anxiety provoking situations can become rather addictive. Before we know it, we spend our lives hiding and we don’t give ourselves the chance to get through it or learn how to cope with life.
Making friends with emotion does not mean that we need to LIKE feeling sad, angry, or anxious. But we can learn to MANAGE them in a way that does not compromise our ability to live a fulfilling life.
It is important to note that the emotions we avoid aren’t always those which are unenjoyable. Sometimes we are so used to living in a constant state of anger, anxiety, or sadness, that embracing happiness or joy is not easy.
THE FIRST STEPS TO BEFRIENDING EMOTIONS
The graph below demonstrates the process we need to go through to slowly increase our tolerance towards emotions we push away:
Picture yourself slowly placing your feet into the sea at the beach; imagine the bite of the water pinching your toes and rising up to clasp your ankles. You could turn and run out of the water. However, if you gradually ease yourself in and stay in the water, your tolerance will rise. You can do the same thing with your emotions.
1. Notice the emotion and the urge to block it out.
2. Sit with it for a bit longer than you usually do.
3. Mindfully notice any thoughts, feelings, and other emotions that come up. Notice any judgments you have e.g. ‘I can’t do this’. Without forcing it, let them enter and leave your mind.
4. Keep safe and know that it takes time to befriend emotions
5. Minimise drugs and alcohol use
6. Each time you try, see if you can sit with the emotion for a little bit longer each time.
7. It is important to ACTIVELY choose to befriend the emotion, don’t just ‘force yourself through it’ but be open to what arises.
8. Don't give up! Learning to cope with emotions we normally push away takes time and perserverance. But you can do it.
Examples of possible emotional exposure:
Leaving the house when we feel anxious, when we normally want to hide.
Thinking of a memory that we normally block out (don't start with something that is too difficult).
Socialising when we would noramlly avoid people.
It is scary to face emotions that we may have spent our lives ignoring them, but building a better relationships with these emotions will only have a positive impact on your life.
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