the Value of difficult emotions (part 1)

Ah, emotions.

The thing that colors our thoughts and gives our life meaning. The fuel that drives our decisions, desires, and impulses. The primal precursor to those pesky feelings.

Whether we judge them as “good” or “bad”, each emotion serves a purpose. Whether or not we believe in a higher purpose behind everyday happenings, every emotional experience has the potential to teach us something.

This extends even to our most painful or unwanted emotions. Let’s consider some of them below:

Confusion

Ozan Safak

Being lost in our mind with no clear answers can feel frustrating, or even bewildering. Confusion often robs us of peace, and keeps us from making sound decisions. But if we can learn to hold space for these unresolved feelings, we can move beyond the confusion, and listen to the echoes of our hidden wisdom.

Confusion is a signal of one of three things:

1.) We don’t have all the answers yet and need time to settle, gather information, receive clarity, and discern the right path.

2.) We’ve lost touch with our beliefs or values, and need time to calibrate our inner compass and re-connect to what’s most important to us.

3.) Our previous notion of “Truth” is being challenged. Some call this cognitive dissonance, and if properly dealt with, it can help us improve how we think, learn, and act.

The signal of confusion can help us pause and consider what we’re doing. It can also help us achieve greater discernment as we deepen into our convictions.

Fear

Mahdi Rezaei


This one is simple and powerful. Fear is designed to temporarily protect us from harm.

But once we learn of the danger, prepare to protect against it, and increase our resilience/strength, the crucial task is to pause the fear response and unlearn the fear-driven behavior from our everyday living. Unlearning specific fear responses can take years, or even decades – especially if the particular fear has been with us since childhood. Fear serves a fundamental purpose, but is not designed to stay with us long term. Too much of the fear response causes negative thought patterns, anxiety, physical sickness, PTSD, or even psychosis in extreme amounts. Excess fear is literally the bane of Life.

Envy

Polina Zimmerman


Why do we feel jealous? There are many complexities to how envy is expressed and felt, but the root of it is simple: diminished self worth.

We see something that we don’t have, and we might immediately feel less than. Or perhaps we see strength, beauty, intelligence, charisma, or attraction in another person, and we falsely believe that their very existence takes away from our own. We envy when we forget our own Light, our purpose. We envy what they have (or what we think they have), who they are (which is often not accurate anyway) rather than remembering who I am, what I have, and why I exist.

Envy is different from the first two emotions we described in that it is more complex and is a derivative of another emotion: shame. And because envy is not a primary emotion, it also does not serve a primary purpose. Instead, the value of envy is its potential to be transmuted into inspiration, and eventually self-acceptance. The simple yet often painful antidote to envy is self-love…including all the parts of us we fear, are ashamed of, or want to forget about.

So how do we actually “use” our difficult emotions?

Like anything, in order to properly “use” a tool, we must first learn about it. To learn something, we must first observe, much like we did with the emotions above. Because emotions are alive and connected to us, we cannot observe them so simply. Rather, we need to experience them. And more importantly, we need to truly feel them.

This is the difference between talking about how I felt angry yesterday when a car cut me off on the road, and actually feeling tense in my shoulders, heat in my forehead, and feeling my heart pound in my chest. The first is an intellectual description of an emotion, and the second is the visceral experience itself.

The first example is an intellectualization of a feeling. Intellectualizing is a feature of our evolved mind and serves to temporarily protect us from overwhelming feelings. But humans are not just mental creatures. Our inner experience is a vast intersection of feelings, thoughts, drives, and chemical responses. The waking mind is programmed to analyze the past, present, and potential future(s). But our stronger, unconscious mind cannot decipher between what’s actually happening now , what’s simply a replay of something in the past, or what’s a projection of a future reality that hasn’t happened yet. If we try to use only our minds to deal with emotions and feelings, we often become stuck like a videotape repeating itself on a loop. At this point, mental analysis is no longer beneficial and energy is wasted.

With each situation that triggers our psychological wounds, the mind replays the scenarios and stories that re-trigger the emotion and sustains the painful feeling. It is not the mind’s job to heal the wound. It is simply designed to analyze it. The emotion must be acknowledged and the feeling must be met with honesty and care. Otherwise, the mind will warp the experience of the wound, and it will attach itself to other unresolved traumas or stories, creating a vicious domino effect.

This is why the healing of our most painful experiences often needs to happen in small parts. We slowly learn to accept and feel one portion of a difficult experience, until the feelings and emotions have all been surfaced and given room to breathe. We slowly widen the window of tolerance each time.

As we learn how to consciously feel, it’s important that we don’t rush the process, lest we become flooded with overwhelming sensations and thoughts. This process may take a while – often longer than we would like. If we stay small and consistent, our progress will evolve and ramp up as we free ourselves from the burden of our unrealistic expectations.

Read Part 2 for practical steps on how to achieve this.

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