You Can't Get Stuck in an Emotion
I used to think I was stuck in my emotions.
I remember periods of my life when I would go into the “Dark Place” (for my fellow Grey’s Anatomy fans!) and spend weeks stuck in sadness, depression, anxiety and just feeling generally hopeless about my future and down on myself.
It was usually during those periods when I would hide. I would clear my social calendar, go home after work and curl up in my bed watching reruns of Beverly Hills 90210. I would call my friends and tell them to make me go out and do things, but when it came down to it, I would rather sleep and emotionally eat to numb my emotions than to go out and be social. I was seeing a therapist, but that usually just made me feel more broken.
I felt totally powerless to my emotions; they were so all-consuming.
The Dark Place was so painful that when I was out of it, I would avoid it at all costs because I was terrified of being stuck there again.
I became afraid of feeling, so that I would continue to numb or suppress any emotion that wasn’t happy or joyful.
And I see in my clients when I ask them about painful memories in their past, often they don’t want to go there because they are afraid of reliving the experience and getting stuck again.
This is something I know to be true: you cannot get stuck in your emotions.
It is impossible. Emotions are just energy in motion.
And because that energy is constantly in motion, it can pass through quickly or very slowly, depending on how we choose to relate to it.
That is the key to managing your emotions: how you relate to them.
When I was feeling stuck in my emotions, I was making them mean something about who I was, and I was constantly reinforcing that with my thoughts.
→ I am depressed.
→ I am pathetic.
→ I am stuck.
→ I will never have the things I want.
→ No one will ever understand.
By buying into these thoughts and using the most powerful statement in the English language— “I am”—to identify with my emotions, I was making them part of my identity.
And as I discuss in the article I wrote about self-sabotage (check it out here if you haven’t already), our egos are obsessed with identity. Our identities are a comfortable and safe paradigm from which our egos love to operate. So when we make something part of our identity, our egos attach to it and fiercely defend it.
But the thing about identity is that it can be constantly recreated. That is why my identity could be “depressed, overweight, perpetually single nonprofit professional” then and “healthy, fulfilled, beautifully connected life coach” now.
It doesn’t happen overnight, but there is a 4-step process that I have created to essentially “workshop” every emotion that you feel.
1. Feel the Emotion. It sounds so simple and obvious, but when we have spent years numbing and suppressing, allowing the emotion to exist is a big first step. What you resist persists, so when you allow the emotion, you disempower it. It becomes less scary.
2. Create Separation. The feeling of “stuckness” occurs when we attach ourselves to the emotion and make it part of who we are. Instead, create a little space by taking on the role of the curious observer. You can reflect that in your language and thoughts by saying “I am experiencing sadness (or any other emotion)” instead of “I am sad.” Remind yourself that you are just a vessel through which that emotions pass through.
3. Process it. Emotions are one of the ways that our body communicates to us, and they often indicate where we need to pay more attention. Get curious about what the emotion is communicating to you. What is the lesson? Where do you need to apply more love? What is the emotion telling you that you really need? Instead of distracting yourself, ask yourself these hard questions and let your body process the emotion. Movement is often helpful, whether it is through a workout, yoga, a run or just putting on music and letting your body move intuitively. If you are feeling angry, give yourself some alone time to throw a tantrum or scream. Don’t judge whatever comes up. There is a reason that children process emotion this way and then can be fine 10 minutes later; it is what your body instinctually does to move the emotion through.
4. Let. It. Go. That emotion doesn’t get to define you; you do. Take action on whatever the emotion taught you (maybe it was asking for more rest, for a tough conversation with a relative, or for a new way of being in your romantic partnership) and then move the heck on. Our emotions are like guideposts on our path. Don’t linger at the guidepost. Keep walking.
The shelf life of your average emotion is 90 seconds if you move through this process (and the more you do it, the more adept at it you become), but that isn’t to say that some might not stick around longer—like grief, for example. Just because something sticks around longer than 90 seconds doesn’t mean that you are doing something wrong or bad. Just continue to allow, to observe and to be curious about what your body is asking of you.
Often emotions that we consider “negative” are just part of the human experience. If we allow them and process them, we create space to feel the joy and elation that comes at the other end of the spectrum as well. If you suppress the “bad” stuff, you suppress the “good” stuff too. Practice grace, acceptance and non-judgement, just allowing whatever comes up in your emotional landscape. There is nothing to fear. You are more powerful than any feeling.
If you are still feeling stuck in your emotions, let’s have a chat about it! Book a free (and pressure-free) discovery call to talk about your story.