What do we do with difficult emotions?

Earlier this week I felt tired. Exhausted in my inner being, and my body reflected that weariness. The cause of this fatigue was more emotional than physical – the sum of a couple of triggers at both the personal and collective levels. I was experiencing a number of difficult emotions.

One trigger came out of the current political climate in Australia where, having just had a federal election, the man who is now our prime minister I don’t trust – based on personal experience of him and his party’s policies in the past.

The second trigger came in my role as executor of my mother’s estate. This has been a fairly painless role thus far, but some conversation with my siblings (and we all get along well and resolve our differences amicably) touched deep-seated fear and emotion that surprised me.

Life difficulties cannot be avoided

Difficulties in life cannot be avoided and come at us when we least expect them. Some we can plan for (by having health insurance for instance), but most take us by surprise. And all difficult experiences change us, regardless of whether we are aware of it or not. When hitches and snags arise some of us like to hurry past them as quickly as possible and then ignore or bury any accompanying emotions. Others of us take the tough times in our stride and look to find the gold in the dross.

But it doesn’t matter which approach we take to worries and complications in life, these events and circumstances change us, incrementally. And deep wounds can be left unacknowledged. Until something triggers an emotional response and we find ourselves in tears, freaking out, angry or frustrated – and not sure why we are feeling what we are.

So, what’s a healthy thing to do when those difficult emotions jump up and bite us?

Before I answer that, let me ask another question: what do we do with pleasant emotions like happiness, love and contentment?

How do we handle pleasant emotions?

We usually don’t have any problem knowing what to do with these feelings – we embrace them, we share them with others, we even revel in them. If we’ve got a new baby in the family, we shower them with love and post all over social media so others can share our joy. If we’ve got that job we wanted, or the promotion we’d been aiming for, we celebrate with friends and family, going out for dinner and taking lots of selfies. The common response to easy-to-deal-with emotions is to hope that they continue for as long as possible.  And we invite others to join us in what we’re experiencing.

What do we do with difficult emotions?

So, what’s a healthy thing to do when those difficult emotions jump up and bite us? The same thing – share them with others. Not to make other people sad but so that we can appreciate more fully that all our emotions are valid, need to be honoured and given space. And I’ve found that as I do this, as I allow myself to feel the hard things, then they dissipate more quickly than if I’d tried to push them away. I then more readily return to a state of equilibrium.

That said, this is not necessarily an easy thing to do.

In the first situation I alluded to, as I shared my feelings with a trusted friend, I sought validation of what I was feeling – because I thought maybe I was over-reacting. I found it hard to accept that I felt what I did. In the second, I rang my sister to share my response. Like my friend, she was supportive and heard me out. And again, I had negative self-talk around what I was feeling. Was I being emotionally manipulative?

Interesting isn’t it, that even as an emotionally aware human being, I still doubt the validity of the more difficult emotions, whereas I would never doubt my reasons for feeling happy or loving someone.

How do you handle difficult emotions?

I don’t have all the answers (I hope you weren’t expecting something earth-shattering here!) But what I do know is that I can value everything I feel. I know that all my emotions are valid and useful. And I continue to learn about myself as I allow the tougher feelings to have their space. All emotions tell us something more about ourselves.  Emotions are keys to deeper, as-yet-unexplored, parts of who we are.

I hope you’re on that journey of self-exploration and self-leadership. And if you ever feel the need for a coach along the road, I’m here. Fill in your details below and I’ll be in touch. Or check out my coaching programs here.

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