Today, you will learn how to feel your feelings and sit with painful emotions and manage them in a positive way.
Our overwhelming emotions can be messy, inconvenient, and confusing, leaving us vulnerable and exposed to the world.
They push us to do things we wish we hadn’t done— they seem so out of our control.
Emotions are among the trickiest things to deal with.
They affect every aspect of our lives and largely determine their quality.
Without understanding how emotions work, we will struggle with living our ideal life and fulfilling our potential.
- Why Is It Important To Talk About Emotions?
- How to Use Your Difficult Emotions As A Guide?
- The Fleeting Nature Of Emotions
- The Function of Emotions: What the Emotion Is Trying to Tell You
- How Long Does Emotional Pain Last?
- How To Feel Your Feelings? Top 9 Difficult Emotions To Cope With In Healthy Ways
Why Is It Important To Talk About Emotions?
Emotions act as a filter that taints the quality of your experiences.
When you’re feeling good, everything seems to feel better; your thoughts are positive, your energy levels are high, etc.
On the other hand, when you feel depressed, everything seems dull, even though the world outside may remain the same.
Moreover, your emotions act like magnets.
They attract thoughts on the same ‘frequency’, which is why, when you’re in a negative state, you begin thinking negative thoughts that end up making you feel even worse unless you replace these thoughts with more positive ones.
In other words, by dwelling on your negative thoughts, you’re creating a lot of unnecessary pain in your life.
How to Use Your Difficult Emotions As A Guide?
You might blame yourself for experiencing negative emotions and view yourself as mentally weak, but your emotions aren’t bad.
It’s the way you interpret emotions, as well as the blame game you might engage in, that is creating suffering and not the emotions themselves.
Your negative emotions can be a powerful guide. They serve a purpose, telling you what’s not working and allowing you to make changes in your life.
However, unless you pay attention to the message these emotions are sending, it’s hard to benefit from them and grow as an individual.
Difficult Emotions Are The Equivalent of Physical Pain
You can think of your difficult emotions as the equivalent of physical pain.
Physical pain sends a powerful signal that something is wrong and that something needs to be done. You might need to undergo surgery, change your diet, or increase exercise.
If you didn’t have pain, chances are you would be dead by now.
Similarly, difficult emotions signal you to do something about your current situation. Perhaps, you need to let go of some toxic relationships, quit a dreadful job, address unhealed wounds from the past, or change your disempowering story about yourself and your life.
Positive Beliefs About Your Feelings
- I have a right to feel my feelings.
- No one can tell me what I “should” feel, even me.
- I don’t have to defend my feelings.
- All my feelings are okay, even anxiety and painful feelings.
- Allowing myself to feel my emotions is healthy.
- My feelings are a valuable feedback about what’s happening in my world.
- What I’m feeling will eventually pass.
The Fleeting Nature Of Emotions
When you’re feeling low, you get so caught up in your emotions it’s hard to imagine being happy again.
But no matter how sad you feel at a given point in time, it passes.
If experience the same emotions repeatedly like chronic depression or anxiety, it probably means you’re holding disempowering beliefs and need to change something in your life.
If you believe that your chronic depression is out of your control, it might be a good idea to consult a specialist.
The Function of Emotions: What the Emotion Is Trying to Tell You
The following is a quick guide to the messages that basic emotions can convey to us.
Grief helps us take time to slow down, process loss, and make the transition more smoothly. It also signals to others that we need support and empathy.
Anger motivates us to solve conflicts, make things right, and remove threats. Anger releases extra energy so we can take action.
Fear signals that we’re perceiving a threat. It makes us alert and focused on finding out what’s wrong and how to protect ourselves from danger.
Shame helps us fit in. It warns us and prevents us from doing something or saying something that is possibly offensive, or punishable within the prevailing culture and norms.
Guilt tells us that we’ve done something we regret. It motivates us to apologize and make amends. It also prevents us from making the same mistake again.
Sadness tells us that we lost something important to us, or were unable to get or achieve what we want. Sadness can help us slow down to reflect and motivate us to make changes in life.
Disgust helps us stay away from potentially hazardous situations (germs, foul-smelling objects that could present a danger, etc.)
How Long Does Emotional Pain Last?
It depends on how you cope with emotional pain and how intense the emotional pain is.
Researchers, led by Philippe Verduyn and Saskia Lavrijsen of the University of Leuven in Belgium, looked at 27 different emotions and compared differences in emotion duration. (*)
They had 233 high school students recall recent emotional experiences and report their duration.
Out of 27 emotions in total, the researchers found that sadness was the longest-lasting emotion, taking on average 120 hours to pass.
Hatred was the second long-lasting emotion followed by joy which lasts an average of 35 hours.
Shame, surprise, fear, disgust, boredom, being touched, irritation and relief, however, were the shortest-lasting emotions.
The same study found that the reason some emotions last longer than others is because of rumination – the tendency to replay or think about negative things over and over.
How To Feel Your Feelings? Top 9 Difficult Emotions To Cope With In Healthy Ways
Even though both people play a role in a conflict, the only behavior that you can really control is your own. However, you cannot effectively manage your behavior when your emotions are too intense.
1. Know your emotional state
Mindfully take notice of what you are feeling. This means to pay attention to what you’re feeling without judging it as right or wrong.
Notice the rising emotions and the urges that accompany them.
Begin with noticing what you are feeling in your body. Are you experiencing muscle tension? Are you grinding your teeth? feeling hot or flushed? Is your heart beating faster?
This may take some practice, but the more aware you are of your emotions, the more control you’ll have over them.
Take a time out to help yourself calm down and think through the situation.
Resist the urge to pick up the phone and yell at the other person or send them an angry text. This is ineffective, as it will end up making the situation worse.
You may write them a letter that you don’t send or rehearse what you would say.
3. Validate your anger
Acknowledge that what happened was not only your fault – that both people in the situation play a role in the interaction.
4. Pay attention to your thoughts
When angry, most people would think in a distorted way, like catastrophizing, discounting the positive, jumping to conclusions, etc.
Thinking errors can quickly increase anger and cause you tremendous suffering.
5. Do the opposite of your urge
Notice your urges to act and then do the opposite.
With anger, it is most common to want to lash out.
Try doing the opposite: ask to take a break and do something else—such as going for a walk, exercising to release energy excess, or taking a cold shower.
Another opposite action is to practice compassion and do something kind for the person you feel anger toward. You may be surprised how doing this can change your mood. This works best after you took some time out and calmed yourself.
It is important to put the current argument in the context of the entire relationship.
Reflect on the great times you experienced together.
7. Address the conflict as soon as possible
Waiting for the other person to apologize assumes that they know they have done something wrong. This might not be the case.
To prevent the issue from festering, address it as soon as you calmed down.
8. Define your objective
Define the outcome you want from addressing the issue.
Do you want to repair your relationship with the other person? Do you want to set specific limits and boundaries with this person? Or do you simply want to vent and let them know how angry you are?
9. Calmly discuss the situation
Once you calmed down and rehearsed what you’re going to say, make the call and explain what it is that you are angry about.
Give the other person a chance to explain what his perspective is and check if you have all the facts correct.
10. Consider where the other person is coming from
Try to consider the other person’s perspective. Also, ask them if they can see where you’re coming from.
Seeing each other’s perspectives will allow the fight to come to an end.
11. Apologize and forgive
Apologizing and forgiveness take so much courage.
Extend forgiveness to yourself, too. Beating yourself up over what has happened doesn’t help.
When your mood is low, it’s hard to feel like doing anything that will make you feel better. You may even not see a point to anything.
Whether the sadness is triggered by an interaction with someone else, or has come out of the blue, it is important to address it.
What is the difference between sadness and depression?
Sadness is not a constant emotional state, whereas depression is a serious mental illness that has enduring low mood states accompanied with hopelessness, and, at times, suicidal thoughts.
Nevertheless, prolonged feelings of sadness may lead to depression.
1. Seek self-validation
Before you can change anything, you have to accept it.
Acceptance here means acknowledging your internal experience and accepting that it is real, understandable, and acceptable.
Once you accepted that you are feeling sad, then you can ask yourself, “What can I do to help myself feel better?”
It is also important to ask yourself if your sadness is perpetuated by negative thoughts about yourself and try to address these.
2. Take time to figure out what to do
Our emotions serve a purpose. Sadness, for example, indicates that something needs to change.
The tendency to slow down and isolate yourself is your mind’s way of giving you the space to figure out what to do about the situation.
Unfortunately, most people don’t see it that way and therefore don’t use it to find solutions.
3. Act opposite to the urge
Once you reflected on your emotion and what you need to do, shift your mood by disrupting your usual response to the emotion.
If you tend to withdraw and isolate yourself when you’re sad, try leaving the room and doing an outdoor activity or calling a friend.
4. Perform an act of kindness
Do something nice for someone with the intention of helping them, but also lifting your feelings of sadness.
Examples of acts of kindness include; helping a coworker with a project, running an errand for a neighbor, paying for the person behind you in line, volunteering, etc.
If these acts seem too much to do, try smaller acts, like sending a kind text to a friend or family member.
5. Make a list of pleasant activities
When you’re feeling low, it can be hard to think of things to do to lift your sadness.
That is why you need to prepare a list of pleasant activities to refer to when you’re feeling sad.
These activities may include: watching something funny, going out to dinner, washing your car, repairing things around the house, dancing, cooking a special meal, etc.
Fear can prevent you from setting a boundary you need to set with someone you worry you might lose. This sacrifice will cause internal conflict and maybe foster resentment.
Here’s how to overcome fear:
1. Recognize your fear
Fear typically triggers the so-called fight-or-flight response, even when the danger is not real.
- Increased heart rate
- Butterflies or digestive changes
- An intense desire to avoid or leave the situation
- Feeling disconnected from yourself
- Feeling like you’re going to pass out
- Thoughts that others will judge you
2. Validate your fear
Once you recognize the emotion of fear, ask yourself if it makes sense that you would experience it.
If the danger is real, fear would be justified.
If the danger is simply perceived then the fear is unjustified.
For example, it makes sense to experience fear if setting a boundary with your friend can cause you to lose them, but not setting the boundary would go against your values.
3. Do the opposite action
The typical response to fear would be avoiding the situation you fear. This only intensifies the emotion.
The opposite action to fear would be facing the situation at hand and challenging your old beliefs about your capability to handle whatever comes your way.
4. Catch the rumination
Ruminating and dwelling on your fear can lead to catastrophizing the situation and keeping you stuck.
Catch the rumination and shift your focus toward something else.
5. Stay focused on your goal
Remind yourself of your goal and commit to doing whatever it takes to reach it, including facing your fears.
For example, if you want a job but are scared of the job interview, commit to doing whatever it takes to get the job, including showing up for the job interview.
Self-loathing is one of the most unrelenting and destructive thoughts.
Here is how you address feelings of self-hatred:
1. Be patient
You probably have spent many years in self-loathing mindset. Creating new brain pathways and changing the way you see yourself will take some time and practice.
Be patient and commit to act lovingly toward yourself, even when you least feel like it.
2. Challenge your limiting beliefs
To address self-loathing, you need to face the negative beliefs that feed it and challenge them.
Ask yourself “What’s holding me back from loving myself?” then answer the following questions:
- Do I have experiences that would contradict my beliefs in any way?
- What evidence do I have that what I believe is actually true?
- Am I falling into a thinking trap (e.g., catastrophizing or all-or-nothing treatment)?
- What would I tell a friend if he/she had the same thought?
- Am I confusing a belief with a fact?
- Am I basing my conclusion mostly on my feelings or on the true evidence?
3. Practice self-forgiveness
Forgiving yourself for your shortcomings is as important and healing as forgiving other people.
Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can do with what you know.
4. Surround yourself with people you love and do the things you enjoy
Fill your life with whatever bring you joy. Start spending more time with supportive people and pursue your interest and what feeds your soul.
Depriving yourself of the things that bring you job only serve to feed self-loathing.
5. Cultivate your compassionate inner voice
Most people are aware of their inner critic – the inner voice that judges, criticizes, or demeans you through negative thoughts about yourself.
But most people are not aware of their compassionate inner voice – an inner voice that encourages your thought positive, supportive thoughts.
To cultivate a compassionate inner voice, try imagining a supportive person for your life or an imaginary one during moments of self-loathing and imagine what would he say. You can also imagine having a friend in the same situation you’re going through, having the same negative thoughts you’re having and imagine what would you tell them – then say it to yourself.
Guilt is a painful emotion that often leads to feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness.
The natural tendency when you are feeling guilty is to isolate yourself or cry or get angry, and maybe even punishing yourself through self-harm.
However, such behaviors will only make your guilt more intense.
Here’s what to do instead:
1. Identify your values
Guilt, generally, arises when you do something that’s against your values and moral code.
These values are the things that are of importance to you around every major area of your life, helping you figure out how to act and what to prioritize.
For example, you may value spending time with your family, or treating others the way you want to be treated, or being on time, etc.
Identify your values by asking yourself what is important to you, or you can ask the opposite question, what makes you feel angry the most, and identify the opposite value to that.
2. Determine whether your guilt is justified or not
Identifying your values can give you an idea whether your guilt is justified or unjustified.
If the behavior you feel guilty about violates your values, then your guilt is justified.
If, on the other hand, the behavior doesn’t violate your values but, is simply a mistake, then your guilt is unjustified.
When your guilt is justified, you need to make a commitment to change your behavior and not give up.
Acknowledge that feelings of self-pity or anger would only make your guilt worse.
4. Do the opposite action
The best way to manage guilt and relieve your suffering is to do the opposite of your typical reaction.
If your guilt is justified, the opposite action would be to apologize and find a way to fix what could be fixed or make amends.
This might not be the easiest option, but its impact will be positive on your mood.
5. Take responsibility for your actions
Take responsibility for the consequences of your behavior without dwelling on self-pity.
Instead, use your guilt to make a commitment to change the behavior and take effective action, and let go of it
6. Let go of mistakes
When your guilt is unjustified, the behavior you feel guilty about is simply a mistake that doesn’t violate your values.
The best way to relieve unjustified guilt is by exposing yourself to it over and over again.
For example, if you feel guilty because you forgot to switch off the lights before you went to work, the best way to relieve that guilt is by tolerating keeping the lights on when you leave the house.
This might sound strange, but deliberately making the mistake is the best way to let go of its guilt.
For many people, shame can be one of the most difficult emotions to manage.
Like guilt, you need to make the distinction between justified shame (one that violates your values) and unjustified shame (one that simply constitutes a mistake).
If shame is justified…
1. Do the opposite action
To figure out the opposite action, consider what your typical reaction to shame is and do the opposite. For example, if you tend to keep secrets and hide, try opening up to a trusted friend about it.
2. Accept the consequences
Take responsibility for your behavior and its consequences by accepting your role in it and avoid blaming other people.
3. Apologize and make amends
Figure out how you can apologize and make up for what you have done and do it.
4. Make a promise
Commit to not doing the behavior again in the future.
5. Let go of shame
Use mindfulness practices to visualize yourself letting go of the shame. In your mind give shame a form or symbol, thank it for the lesson and watch it leave your chest as you breathe out.
If shame is unjustified…
Expose yourself to the behavior
Frequently repeat the mistake you feel shame about. As you stop avoiding the feeling and expose yourself to it, its intensity will go down.
This might seem counterintuitive, but avoidance only intensifies your shame, and the only way to let go of unjustified shame is through exposure.
Jealousy is a feeling that arises when you think you are losing someone you really care about to someone else.
This feeling can lead to behaviors that will accelerate the loss of the relationship and your sense of self-respect.
1. Recognize your jealousy
The emotion of jealousy is usually accompanied by signs, such as:
- You feel suspicious when you’re not with your partner
- You feel concerned when they mention other people
- You constantly check their social media
- You attempt to control your partner’s behavior
- You compare yourself to other people in his life and feel insecure
2. Know the difference between justified and unjustified jealousy
Justified jealousy is when you react to things that have actually happened. For example, when your partner receives a text from an ex inviting them on a date, your jealousy is justified.
Unjustified jealousy is when your reaction is based on suspicion with no evidence. For example, when your partner doesn’t answer your calls, assuming that they’re cheating with no evidence is unjustified jealousy.
When jealousy is justified…
When jealousy is justified, consider what is in your best interest.
Decide whether it is important for you to:
- Fight for your relationship, even if you fear it won’t work, or
- Leave the relationship
If you decide to stay in the relationship, you will need to:
Talk to your partner about your experience is, including your thoughts and feelings. And determine what should be done about the situation.
When jealousy is unjustified…
Practice doing the opposite action to jealousy. This could mean:
- Purposely sharing the person you love with others
- Avoiding checking their social media or reading private texts and e-mails
- Letting go of the need to control your partner
To identify the opposite action, try reflecting on how you would have acted had you not felt jealous.
Despite your schedule and the long list of things to do, you may feel unbearable feelings of loneliness every now and then.
Here is how you address feelings of loneliness:
Call a close friend or a loving family member and catch them up on how you are doing. If you’re worried they might be busy, try sending them a thoughtful text message.
2. Buy or make a gift for a loved one
The act of making or buying a gift for someone is a mindfulness practice that can help you feel connected to that person and feel less lonely.
3. Avoid scrolling through social media feeds
Visiting social media and seeing how other people are having fun can make you feel even more lonely.
Ask yourself if being on social media is making you happier. If it makes you feel more lonely and isolate, then take a break from it when these feelings arise.
Volunteering is a great way to connect with other people and be able to contribute to the happiness of others.
Furthermore, making someone else happy, will also increase your happiness.
5. Join a club
Clubs are a great way to meet like-minded people.
Use Meetup to find groups.
6. Join a yoga or meditation group
This is a great way to get some exercise, but also to meet other people and broaden your social network.
7. Adopt a pet
Spending time with animals can make you feel less lonely.
Get a pet or spend more time with the one you already have.
If you can’t own a pet, consider taking care of or walking someone else’s pet or volunteer in a local pet shelter.
9. FEELING UNREAL
Many people, especially under stress, experience the feeling that they are not real or that they exist outside of their bodies, also called depersonalization.
Depersonalization happens when your emotions are so powerful that you disconnect from them.
1. Recognize that you are disconnecting
Identify specifically what happens to you when you are experiencing depersonalization. Is it that you don’t feel your body? Do you feel detached from your thoughts? Do you feel emotionally numb?
2. Get grounded
The quickest way to get out of a depersonalized state is to practice grounding.
The best way to get grounded is to do something that will keep your attention focused on the present moment without causing emotional pain.
You can also select a color and name items around you with that color. Or choose a letter from the alphabet and name every animal that begins with that letter. Or you can also choose a number and count backward.
3. Use your senses
This is another way to come back to the present moment.
Hold an ice cube or smell a strong fragrance or suck on a flavorful mint or focus on a neutral sound like the sound of the street or the chirping of a bird.
4. Use present-moment questions
Ask yourself “Where am I? How old am I? What day is it? What am I doing?”
You can label the present moment, saying “Today is Monday, March 19.” Or you can remind yourself of what you’re currently doing, saying “I am making breakfast.”
By understanding the mechanism behind your negative emotions, you’ll be able to manage them more effectively.
The first thing to understand is that emotions are unpredictable.
One moment you feel happy, the next you feel sad.
Expecting to be happy all the time means that you’re setting yourself up for failure.
To start taking control of your emotions you need to learn to let them pass without feeling the need to identify strongly with them.
You must allow yourself to feel sadness without beating yourself up about it by thinking, “I shouldn’t be sad,” or “What’s wrong with me?”
No matter how mentally tough you are, you’ll still experience negative emotions, like sadness, grief, or depression.
But that’s okay because emotions are there to help you change an unhelpful attitude or situation allowing you to grow as an individual, which the most important thing.
How Your Survival Mechanism Affects Your Emotions?
A Bias Towards Negativity
Your brain is designed for survival.
Even though you’re not facing death every day like our ancestors, your survival mechanism hasn’t changed much since then.
Your brain is constantly scanning looking for potential threats, which is resulting in giving significantly more weight to negative events than to positive ones.
Being rejected from your tribe used to reduce your chances of survival. As a result, your brain becomes hardwired to look for any sign of rejection.
Although being rejected today carries little to no harm to your survival, your brain is still programmed to perceive rejection as a threat to your survival.
This is why rejection is so painful. If you listen to your mind, you may even start over-dramatizing and believing that you aren’t worthy of love and become depressed as a result of this rejection.
For instance, if your boss criticizes your work, you might find yourself thinking, “What if I’m fired? What if I can’t find a job quickly enough? What if my wife left me? What about my kids? What if I can’t see them again?”
Without separating real threats from imaginary ones, you’ll end up experiencing unnecessary pain.
How Dopamine Can Mess With Your Happiness?
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a major role in rewarding certain behaviors, like exercising, having sex, or eating great food.
The role of this rewarding feeling is mainly to ensure your survival by looking for food so you don’t die of starvation and searching for a mate so you can reproduce.
Today, this reward system can be, in many cases, obsolete and can be addictive.
Activities, such as using social media, watching pornography, playing video games, or gambling leads to the release of dopamine, which can make these activities highly addictive.
In 2005, Korean, Lee SeungSeop died after playing a video game for fifty-eight hours straight with very little food or water, and no sleep. The cause of death was heart failure induced by exhaustion and dehydration. He was only twenty-eight years old.
Moreover, this version of happiness can actually make us unhappy. The shots of dopamine we receive throughout the day shouldn’t be mistaken for happiness.
The good news is that we still can choose not to act each time our brain releases dopamine.
To better control your emotions, it is important to identify your addictions as they can rob you of your happiness.
What Is Hedonic Adaptation? The ‘One Day I Will Become Happy’ Myth
Most people believe that once they’ll achieve their dreams, they’ll finally become happy.
This is just another trick your mind plays on you.
We quickly adapt to new situations. For instance, buying a new car can make you happy but only for a while. Once the initial excitement wears off, you’ll move on to the next goal.
This phenomenon is known as ‘hedonic adaptation.’
How Hedonic Adaptation Works?
In 1978, a study investigating how winning the lottery or becoming paraplegic influence happiness found that one year after the event, both groups were just as happy as they were beforehand.
This shows that no matter what happens to you, once you’ve adapted to the new event, you’ll revert back to your initial level of happiness.
It doesn’t mean that you can’t be happier than you are right now. It just means that external events, in the long run, have very little impact on your happiness.
In fact, according to Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness, 50% of our happiness is determined by genetics, 40% by internal factors, and only 10% percent by external factors, such as being single or married, working or jobless, etc.
The bottom line is: It’s your attitude towards life that influences your happiness, and not what happens around you.
- Portions of this article were adapted from the book Master Your Emotions, © 2018 by Thibaut Meurissee. All rights reserved.
- Portions of this article were adapted from the book Coping with BPD: DBT and CBT Skills to Soothe the Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder, © 2015 by Blaise Aguirre and Gillian Galen. All rights reserved.
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Hadiah is a counselor who is passionate about supporting individuals on their journey towards mental well-being. Hadiah not only writes insightful articles on various mental health topics but also creates engaging and practical mental health worksheets.
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