If you were to grade your ability to process emotions, would you pass? Fail? Not be sure? Let me give you some context.
The word emotion comes from the Latin emovere, meaning “to move.” So at their most basic, emotions are something that want to move.
More specifically, emotions are an energy that wants to move. And the way that energy wants to move is as a wave that crests and passes after a couple minutes.
These waves of emotion can feel big, sometimes overwhelming. But they’re here to help us survive, function, and connect. Without emotions, we’d all have been saber-toothed tiger snacks long ago.
Learning the wrong lessons
The problem is that, for all but a few, no one ever taught us how to manage our emotions in a healthy way.
Maybe you learned to ignore and stuff down your feelings. You feel angry about something, but then tell yourself you don’t or shouldn’t feel angry because…reasons.
Or you learned to avoid your feelings. You drink, smoke, watch TV, exercise, socialize, have sex…anything to avoid feeling that.
Others learned to ruminate on the emotion, feeding it with negative thoughts until it festers. Or they learned to blindly act on feelings, letting them explode or take over.
Getting all plugged up
But tamping down the energy of our emotions—not giving them healthy channels to flow through—can have serious consequences. It can cause:
- Dulled vitality and depression
- Broken or unfulfilling relationships
- Muscle tension and pain
- Higher risk of illness
So, get them flowing
The basic steps for processing emotions are simple:
Step 1: Identify the feeling.
When you feel an emotion surfacing, the first step is to name it. What are you feeling? Is it one emotion or several?
Step 2: Feel the feeling.
Sit with the emotion, without judgment, and let yourself feel it. Try to:
- Distinguish the felt-sense of the emotion from the cause. Thinking about the cause can re-trigger the feeling, making emotions churn, not process.
- Track the wave of emotional energy. If we don’t re-trigger emotions with our thoughts, the wave will crest and pass within minutes.
- Give it a channel to move. Sometimes emotions need expression. Try moving your body, journaling, drawing, singing or any form of creative expression.
Step 3: Take action if needed or let it go.
Once the wave has passed ask: Is there any action I need to take?
Sounds simple, right? In practice, processing emotions can get complex, especially with trauma. If you try these steps and feel numb, overwhelmed, or confused, you’re not doing it wrong. You’ve just got extra challenges to navigate. The help of a skilled guide can make all the difference.