Why you don't have to feel your feelings all the time

I hope you've been enjoying this series on mastering your emotions. Today's post is inspired by one of my favourite therapists to follow on Instagram - @sitwithwhit - her posts are always so normalising and comforting.


It was this post that made me realise that this point deserved a blog post all of its own:

It can be very easy in the self-development space to feel like you need to work on yourself all the time or risk feeling like a failure. What I've learnt more recently is that while growth and change can be extremely fulfilling, it's also joyful to slow down, take a break and enjoy life as it is.


In this post, I'll explain why it's important to find a balance between feeling into your emotions and experiencing life without analysing or intellectualising it.

How to effectively process emotions

It's not always safe to fully experience your emotions

If you think about where your emotions are likely to be triggered, it's often when you're with at least one other person. It takes a unique kind of relationship to feel safe and comfortable to deal with things there and then.


There are often other factors at play that you will be considering - the environment you're in, what else you have to do that day/week, your confidence in your ability to deal with those emotions. If you're out at a bar, know that you have a really busy week coming up and are only just starting to tackle dealing with your emotions fully - it's totally normal to have resistance to your feelings.


It's also important to consider any systemic influences. Racism, sexism, ableism and other forms of discrimination are very likely, if not certain, to trigger difficult emotions. Safety is likely to be your number one priority in those situations.


So in these situations ask yourself whether you feel safe to feel your feelings. Remember that feeling uncomfortable and feeling unsafe are two very different things.


It can be overwhelming to continuously experience and allow your emotions in

We've already spoken about how understandable it is that you've been avoiding your emotions (catch up here). It takes time to get used to allowing your emotions to be present.


For the most part, I've found that once you accept your emotions they become less overwhelming. Supressing them is a sure fire way to make sure they stick around longer.


However it might not always be the right time for you to face those emotions and truly feel them.


You might have a lot going on at work, a busy family life and a calendar full of social commitments.


The key is to not use this as an excuse to never deal with your emotions, but ask yourself before you choose to feel your feelings:


"Do I have the capacity for this right now?"


It's okay if the answer's no. You can put a date in the diary for when you will re-assess.


And the good news is that by doing that, you are supporting yourself to manage your emotions in a way that feels good for you.


While listening to experts and coaches can be helpful when developing new skills, it's so important to recognise what does and doesn't work for you. You can be open to dealing with things in a different way and keep in mind your own needs.


How to effectively process emotions


Emotions may come up when you're in a place that's less than convenient


Have you ever been in the middle of a difficult conversation with someone and felt the urge to cry or shout? That's your emotions letting you know that the exchange has bothered you.


Sometimes you may not feel it's appropriate to deal with those emotions there and then. A word of caution here - check that it's not your own beliefs and rules about feeling your feelings coming up to block or sabotage you.


It's absolutely okay to talk about how you feel or let someone know when they've upset you.


You don't have to hold your emotions in because that's what's viewed as "socially acceptable". Opening up in that moment may lead to a profound and helpful experience for everyone involved.


It's also valid if you need to take yourself out of the situation and have a break before you respond.


Again, making a note of when to return to those feelings to process them can be helpful so you don't forget about it or avoid dealing with it.



How to support yourself when you're not quite ready to feel your feelings


So what can you do if you've recognised that it's not time to process and manage your emotions?


Firstly, recognise the progress you have made. Not only have you acknowledged that difficult emotions have been triggered but you have realised that it's not the right time for you to deal with it.


In the past, you were totally unaware of what is going on for you. It's really important to take note of this and not breeze past it.


The most important thing you can do for yourself right now is treat yourself with compassion.


It's very easy to feel like you "should" be dealing with things differently and use this as a reason to beat yourself up.


Remind yourself that you're dealing with things in a way that feels right for you. Ask what you would say to a friend in the same situation and give yourself the same kindness.


Not being ready to manage your emotions does not mean you are hopeless. There are many things you can do in this time.


Distraction gets a bad rep but it is a coping skill in and of itself. It could look like getting out of your current environment, watching TV, exercising or reading a book. The key is to ask yourself,


Is this distraction the most helpful thing I can do for myself right now, or will it feel better to face this problem or emotion instead, even if it's uncomfortable initially?


Acceptance does not mean passively tolerating things as they are. It means being willing to sit with your experience as it is.


How to effectively process emotions

Journal prompts for supporting yourself compassionately

  • What is a realistic expectation of myself when it comes to dealing with my emotions?

  • What would it look like for me to support myself even when I'm not ready to deal with my emotions?

  • How would I like to talk to myself when I'm not feeling my best?

 

This brings us to the end of the series on mastering your emotions! I hope you've enjoyed exploring how you deal with your feelings and have been able to develop your emotional regulation skills.


Remember that this is all a lifelong practice and can take some time to get used to. I'd love to know your key takeaway from the series - let me know in the comments below.


How to effectively process emotions

This blog post series has been informed by the following references:

  • Aldoa, A., Nolen-Hoeksema, S., & Schweizer, S. (2010). Emotion-regulation strategies across psychopathology: A meta-analytic review. Clinical psychology review, 30(2), 217-237.

  • Brackett, M., (2019). Permission to Feel: Unlock the power of emotions to help yourself and your children thrive. Hachette; UK.

  • Hanson, R. (2018). Resilient: 12 tools for transforming everyday experiences into lasting happiness. Random House; UK.

  • Irons, C. (2019). The Compassionate Mind Approach to Difficult Emotions using compassion focused therapy. Robinson; UK.

  • Lieberman, M. D., Eisenberger, N. I., Crockett, M. J., Tom, S. M., Pfeifer, J. H. and Way, B. M. (2007). Putting feelings into words. Psychological science, 18(5), 421-428.

  • Pennebaker, J. W. (1997). Writing about emotional experiences as a therapeutic process. Psychological science, 8(3),162-166.




Why you don't have to feel your feelings all the time

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