Working Through Our Feelings

We have identified many of the emotions that impact us as a result of the losses that we experience. I hope we have also been able to validate and legitimize these reactions to enable us to feel what we feel. People have a tendency to imply that we “mustn’t be emotional”. Often the reason they do that is to make themselves feel more comfortable, because people often feel uneasy in the presence of emotion, not knowing what to say or do.

But emotions are a necessary part of the healing process and we bury them at our peril.

We have to regard emotions not as an enemy but as our friends. Grief by definition is “how we feel after any loss” so to deny our emotions is to suppress grief, and that is not healthy. Grief will manifest itself in physical or emotional illness if it is not dealt with in an appropriate way.

So we have to work through the feelings. Instead of ignoring what we are feeling, we need to embrace it. There’s an old proverb that says, “Don’t fight the river; flow with it.” Imagine your emotions like that river. Perhaps they often feel more like a torrent. Now imagine trying to hold back the force of that flood. It is impossible. The river is going to flow … around you, through you or over you.

Here are a few strategies to help you work through your emotions and “go with the flow”. Remember, these emotions are not going to destroy you; they are trying to help you to heal.

3 steps in working through the feelings.  

Step 1:      Identify the Emotion

Be aware of how you feel. When you have a negative emotion, such as anger, anxiety or whatever, try to name what you’re feeling.

Don’t blame. Being able to recognize and explain your emotions is healthier than blaming someone or something for the way you feel. How you feel when these things happen comes from inside you. Your feelings are there for a reason — to help you make sense of what’s going on.

Don’t hide how you feel from yourself. You might not want to share or show your feelings to those with whom you feel uncomfortable or you don’t trust. This is sacred emotional ground and we don’t want everyone trampling over it by chattering about what you have shared. Believe me, I understand that. But don’t suppress your feelings entirely. Name the feeling. “I’m feeling angry, anxious or confused.” Read on to discover some ideas about how to express that emotion.

Know why you feel the way you do. Figure out what happened that got you feeling the way you do. What has “triggered” this particular emotion? A memory, a time, a reminder, or something else? Sit down quietly and ask yourself, Ok why am I feeling this emotion?

Accept all your emotions as natural and understandable. When you have asked yourself the why of this emotion or feeling, remember that there is a reason for every reaction. Don’t judge yourself for the emotions you feel. Ask yourself, “Why am I feeling angry, anxious or whatever emotion that you are sensing”. Acknowledging how you feel can help you identify what is really going on inside, and that will help you move on. Above all, don’t be hard on yourself when you are emotional. This is part of the healing process.

Step 2:      Take Action

Once you’ve processed what you’re feeling, you can decide how you can best express your emotion. Sometimes it’s enough to just realize how you feel, but other times you’ll want to do something to feel better. Here are some suggestions:

Think about the best way to express your emotion. Can you talk over what you’re feeling with a trusted friend? Can you write what you are feeling in your journal? The principle is: “That which cannot be put into words, cannot be put to rest.” So we go back to amend a previous statement …. “Some things are better felt than telt … But when they are felt they need to be telt.” We need to talk about it … to express our feelings, whether to family, a friend or a support group or a counselor. They can help you explore your emotions and give you a fresh way of thinking about things.

Learn how to change your mood. At a certain point, you’ll want to shift from a negative mood into a positive one. Otherwise your thinking may get stuck on how bad things are, and that can drag you down into feeling worse. Try doing things that make you happy, like going for a walk or watching a funny movie with friends can help lift you out of that negative space. But, be careful … it is not one to the exclusion of the other and we need to balance negativity and positivity.

Build positive emotions. Positive feelings create a sense of happiness and wellbeing. Sure we feel bad about the loss, but try to balance that by making it a habit to notice and focus on what’s good in your life. Notice the good things you still have even when you’re feeling bad. This can help you shift the emotional balance from negative to positive.

Seek support. As we suggested above, express how you’re feeling with a trusted family member or friend, or in a community support group. If nothing else they can listen while you spout off! Nothing helps you feel more understood and cared for than the support of someone who loves you for who you are, and accepts that, right now, you are wounded and hurt. It is OK “not to be yourself” in challenging times…for a while at least!

Exercise. Physical activity helps the brain produce natural chemicals that help promote a positive mood. Exercise also can release stress buildup and help you from staying stuck on negative feelings.

Step 3:      Get Help with Difficult Emotions  

But sometimes, no matter what you do, you can’t shake a tough emotion. If you find yourself stuck in feelings of sadness or worry for more than a couple of weeks, or if you feel so upset that you think you might hurt yourself or other people, you may need to consider talking to a doctor, a counselor, parent, or trusted adult. Good qualified therapists are trained to teach people how to break out of negative emotions and can provide lots of strategies and ideas that can help.

In the last series of 3 Blogs on “Life in Challenging Times, Dr. Bill talks about Basic Needs and Coping Strategies and how we can respond to challenging times of loss.