"The brain is wider than the sky." - Emily Dickinson
Dr. Jim Fuller

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Difficult emotions arise normally in everyday life. If we suppress these emotions, they do not go away. Instead, they tend to reside in our subconscious minds, and influence our behavior in ways over which we have no control. On the other hand, if we give these emotions free reign, they can damage our relationships. Learning how to manage difficult emotions is critical to self care and care of our relationships with others.

How to Manage Difficult Emotions

Essentially, the process of learning to manage difficult emotions involves:

  1. Getting in touch with our emotions directly, and learning both to feel them, and to let them go.
  2. Getting grounded in reality so that we do not allow our emotions to take us to unrealistic places where they exact an unnecessary toll.
  3. Balancing our negative thoughts and feelings with positive thoughts and feelings.
  4. Learning to discriminate between pain that moves us forward in our lives, or allows us to grow, and pain that keeps us stuck and prevents growth.
  5. Reminding ourselves of the rewards that will surely come from growth.
  6. Identifying any support we need from ourselves or others in order to feel these emotions and grow.

When you are captured by powerful negative emotions, follow these steps in order to learn to feel in a way that is not toxic to you or anyone else. More than any other skill, the skill of learning to feel and separate your feelings from your choices will allow you to grow or move forward in your life.

  1. Get in touch with your negative emotions by going inside and learning to feel and let go of your feelings. Find a quiet place where you can close your eyes and progressively relax. When you are relaxed, imagine you are sitting in a chair in an empty room. Empty your mind. Then sit with the open question, how do I feel. Let a feeling come to you. Don’t think about how you have been feeling or should be feeling. Simply open your mind and let a feeling come to you. When it comes, sit in the feeling. Don’t run away from it. Befriend your feeling. It is an essential part of your self. When you have allowed yourself to sit in the feeling long enough, begin to let it go by breathing out, or releasing your feeling as you exhale. Watch the feeling pass. When it is gone, sit with the question again. Continue in this manner until no more feelings come. Then look down deeper inside and ask yourself if you can see a feeling deeper inside your self that you are not yet ready to feel. Simply notice any deeper feelings.
  1. When you have completed this process, open your eyes, pick up a pencil and paper, and simply list all of the feelings you discovered inside your self. Then write a sentence beside each feeling stating: “I feel angry, sad, guilty, afraid (or any other feeling) because __________________.” Connecting your feelings with situations will help you understand better from whence they are coming.
  2. Ask yourself what assumptions about your self or others are underneath, or reflected by these feelings. In particular, examine these assumptions by asking the question, are these assumptions realistic or unrealistic. Many times powerful negative feelings cause us to make unrealistic assumptions about ourselves or others, which then become self-fulfilling prophesies, or cause other problems for us.
  3. After examining your feelings, make some positive statements about your self and your life. Negative feelings can skew assumptions about ourselves and our life in negative and unrealistic directions. Get in touch with and balance your perspective with positive thoughts about yourself and your life.
  4. Ask your self, what is that pain I have to experience in order to grow or move forward in my life? When we grow or move forward we always have to give something up. Another way of asking this questions is, “what do I have to give up in order to grow or move forward through these feelings?”
  5. Identify the pain that keeps you stuck and prevents you from growing. Discriminate between positive or forward moving pain and pain that keeps you stuck and going around in the same old circles.
  6. Ask yourself, if I feel this pain and grow, what is my reward for doing so? In other words, what do I get for growing?
  7. Finally, ask yourself, do I need to take care of myself in any particular ways in order to make it through this difficult time, and make a plan to take care of yourself. If you need to reach out and make contact with someone in your life who can help you through this time (without judging you or giving you advice), make a plan to contact this person(s).

Do this process with yourself as often as necessary to help you cycle through your difficult emotions and achieve balance and growth in your life.

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