”Turn on the faucet. Wash yourself with the emotion. It won’t hurt you. It will only help. If you let the fear inside, if you pull it on like a familiar shirt, then you can say to yourself, ‘All right, it’s just fear, I don’t have to let it control me. I see it for what it is.’”
-- Tuesdays with Morrie; an old man, a young man, and life’s greatest lesson (1997)
Because emotions come straight from the heart, rejecting them is rejecting a part of you. Running away from them means running away from you. This is a flight without end because you can’t escape yourself. Instead, if you face and accept your emotions, you can find peace within yourself, harmony in your relationships, and be engaged and productive at work.
Though accepting and embracing your emotions can be difficult, you can do this by:
Acknowledging emotions: When you have emotions (particularly powerful ones), take the time to focus on them.
Naming emotions: Labeling your emotions can be more difficult than you might think. Emotions often come intermingled with other ones, so you must disentangle them in order to recognize each one.
Experiencing emotions: Acknowledging and naming your emotions can be purely intellectual processes that are not sufficient to work through them. Painful as it can be, you must allow yourself to really feel your emotions. Just as with any other problem, you have to engage with difficult feelings to work through them. (Figuring out your emotional struggles from a distance is a lot like searching for buried treasure by looking at a globe. While both might be worthwhile endeavors, neither one is enough to get you to your goal.)
Responding kindly to them. Experiencing your emotions involves relating to them. If you respond by being critical and harsh with yourself, you will feel more distress – adding to your problems. However, by being accepting and compassionate, you can ease the pain, or at least comfort it. Rather than fighting with yourself over your emotions, you can put your energy into experiencing and moving through them.
Finally, by doing all of these steps, you will be developing compassionate self-awareness. That is, you will increase your self-awareness; feeling more fully connected with your thoughts, feelings, and general sense of yourself. And you will be well on your way to being compassionate toward, and truly okay with, you. Freed from your need to escape yourself, you can make choices based on what you really want. So, in the end, you will generally make better decisions; and whatever your situation, you will have a greater sense of inner peace and appreciation for yourself as a whole person.
Dr. Leslie Becker-Phelps is a clinical psychologist in private practice and is on the medical staff at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, NJ. She also writes a blog for WebMD (The Art of Relationships) and is the relationship expert on WebMD’s Relationships and Coping Community.
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Making Change blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional assistance.