What do you do when you’re an emotional wreck? How do you handle loneliness, depression, sadness, anxiety, regret or stress?
If you’ve been dumped, betrayed, embarrassed, criticized or hurt, what’s your strategy for regaining your emotional balance and feeling better?
Well, if we’re going to be honest, most of us avoid our feelings, don’t we? I often do and I know I’m not alone. What I notice, both in our culture and in my relationship coaching practice, is that there are five primary ways we avoid our feelings. Which one is your go-to?
1. Distract. Perhaps the most popular way we avoid our feelings is to distract ourselves from them by watching television, working out, getting on social media, texting our friends, etc.
2. Medicate. Another very popular avoidance strategy is using things like alcohol, chocolate, shopping, gambling or porn to numb our feelings and anesthetize ourselves from our experience.
3. Blame. Pointing the finger at someone (especially the middle one) is also a favorite way we avoid our feelings. Yes, we are expressing how we feel, but we’re playing the victim, focusing on what someone “out there” did to us, instead of directly facing what we’re feeling “in here.”
4. Analyze. Trying to “figure it out” is a favorite strategy among personal development types. On the surface, it seems more evolved than the first three, but it’s just another way to avoid our feelings. Instead of being in our bodies and resting in our direct experience, we go up into our heads and waste energy on “why” questions. (Have you noticed that knowing why someone cheated on you doesn’t make you feel better?)
5. Spiritualize. This final avoidance strategy is the sneakiest of them all. Spouting sweet-sounding platitudes, new-age clichés and even scripture verses is another way we avoid facing the reality of what’s happening in our experience.
The problem with these avoidance strategies is that they don’t work. They never lead to a sustained sense of openness and inner harmony. In fact, these avoidance strategies trap the feelings in our bodies and that wreaks havoc on our physical, relational and spiritual lives.
Wouldn’t it be great, though, if avoiding our feelings really helped?
How cool would it be to have one glass of wine and never again feel lonely? What if one chocolate chip cookie or one new dress or 10 minutes of porn could put an end to anxiety, stress or depression once and for all? Wouldn’t that be awesome?
But it doesn’t work that way. Sure, a couple of drinks or a trip to the casino can give you temporary relief, but as soon as you stop using your favorite avoidance strategy, the feelings come rushing back.
So, what should we do when we’re an emotional wreck? Well, instead of avoiding our feelings, we can do something radical and almost unthinkable: We can simply feel them.
That may not sound very s*xy, but it’s the healthiest, most conscious thing to do when you’re an emotional wreck.
Feeling your feelings can be broken down into a five-step process: Locate, Label, Love, Look and Listen. The order is important so let’s take them one at a time.
Step 1: Locate
Feelings are merely sensations and energies in the body, and when they’re allowed to be and flow as they are, they arise and dissolve naturally and quickly. The five-step process begins as we “locate” where these sensations and feelings occur in the body.
Step 1, then, is to sit quietly, feel into the body and describe what you feel. For example,”I feel a churning sensation in my stomach,” or “I feel an aching sensation in my neck,” or “I feel pressure on my chest and it’s hard to breathe.” This is moving toward your experience, not avoiding it.
Step 2: Label
There are five primary emotions: angry, scared, sad, joy and s*xual feelings, and they are normally felt in certain regions of the body. For example, anger energy is usually felt in the upper back, neck and jaw. Sadness is usually felt in the chest, throat and behind the eyes, while fear is usually felt in the stomach region. Joy is often felt as a tingling, upward-rushing energy, and s*xual energy is felt in the genitals, breasts and mouth.
Some spiritual teachers take exception to the idea of labeling energies, believing that it’s mind-made and unnecessary. And there’s truth in that. However, since most people are so conditioned to avoid their feelings, labeling is a powerful and necessary step toward authenticity.
Step 2, then, is to “label” the energy that was located in Step 1, and it might sound like this: “I feel tightness in my neck and shoulders. I feel angry.” These first two steps can be completed in a matter of seconds.
Step 3: Love
Step 3 is where the rubber meets the road. While most people can locate and label their feelings, few of us know what to do with them. It’s at this point that we either avoid our experience with the aforementioned strategies, or we can embrace or “love” our present experience by doing three simple things:
First, breathe. Sit and tune into the energy that you’ve located and labeled, and then intentionally send your breath to it. Breathe to the tightness, churning or throbbing. This act alone may dramatically shift your emotional state.
Second, vocalize. Allow the energy to make its own sound. Without words, let the energy express itself through sounds like screaming, growling, groaning, moaning, crying, etc. The important thing here is to make sure the sound matches the feeling.
Lastly, move. Let yourself be “possessed” by the energy, allowing it to move your body in any way it desires. In other words, do an “interpretive dance,” making sure the movement matches how you feel; otherwise you won’t experience a shift. Go all the way. For example, if you’re scared, roll up in a ball and shake. If you’re angry, pound a cushion. If you’re sad, double over and sob. If you’re horny, twerk; if you’re joyful, raise your arms in a victory celebration.
Step 4: Look
To be emotionally intelligent (EQ) means we’re committed to feeling our feelings all the way through to completion. If you practice steps 1-3, the emotion will naturally release.
However, if it remains stuck, if you’re still an emotional wreck, the next step is to “look” for the story that’s fueling the feeling and keeping it going. It’s always a story or the way you’re interpreting an event, that holds an emotion in place.
For example, if your boyfriend breaks up with you, you’ll naturally feel sad. And if you practice steps 1-3, that feeling will naturally move through you and release. (You may have to repeat those steps frequently at first since sadness often comes in waves.)
But if you have a story that says the break up means you’re not lovable and that you’ll never find a lasting relationship, your sadness will never release. It will be like a birthday candle that can’t be blown out! The story fuels the emotion and keeps it from naturally releasing.
However, our stories are NEVER true no matter what they are. When you “look” at the story and see that it’s just an empty, meaningless thought, the emotion will release naturally, and you’ll be back in your normal and natural state of ease and flow.
Step 5: Listen
The final step is to “listen” to our emotions. Like a fever indicates an infection, so our emotions often indicate that something is out of alignment in our lives and needs our attention.
Frequently, when we’re an emotional wreck, it’s because we’re not addressing something in our lives. Here is a list of the primary emotions and what they usually indicate:
- Anger — something needs to be stopped.
- Sadness — something needs to be released.
- Fear — something needs to be known.
- Joy — something needs to be celebrated.
- Sexual Feelings — something needs to be created.
When you’re feeling one of these emotions, your body is speaking to you. So listen! Hear and heed your body’s wisdom, for if you don’t, you forfeit the right to feel good.