“We cannot selectively numb emotions when we numb the painful emotions we also numb the positive”. – Brene Brown
In the Pixar film, Inside Out, 11 year old Riley and her five core emotions (Fear, Anger, Disgust, Joy and Sadness) struggle to cope with her new life.
Throughout the movie, the different emotions battle with each other until they realise they are all important and need to work together.
Some years ago I coached a lovely leader who wanted to learn more about himself and how to feel more comfortable in expressing his emotions.
He told me he “didn’t do emotions” and thought maybe it was time that he did!
At the start of the coaching, I would ask him a question and be met with a blank face.
“I have no way of processing what you have just asked,” he said.
As someone who is comfortable with pretty much all-things-emotional, it seemed that he and I were the perfect match!
I was able to support him to explore what he was feeling and then how he could express it in his own unique way.
What he learnt very quickly was that he was comfortable with less charged emotions such as excitement, joy and optimism. He was able to express and process them quite easily.
It was when he experienced emotions he associated with more unpleasant feelings, that he would shut down as a way of protecting himself. Understandable yet not very helpful.
We all experience emotions in some capacity. It is part of being human.
However, we can’t choose to experience just the pleasant emotions and suppress anything we don’t like because it’s too uncomfortable. It isn’t healthy and it isn’t or helpful to numb.
When we give ourselves full permission to be with and experience all of our emotions, we build our capacity to be vulnerable, courageous and compassionate.
Over the last few weeks, my guess is that we will all have experienced strong emotions and had our own way of dealing with them. And there will be more to come as we move through these most extraordinary of times.
So here are 3 really simple things you may like to try next time you notice an unpleasant emotion popping up that you would much rather avoid.
Tip 1 – Give yourself permission to be ok with whatever you feel. It is all normal – Sad, glad, bad, angry.
Tip 2 – Name what you feel. I am feeling frustrated. I am feeling angry. I am feeling sad. I am feeling disappointed. When we name what we feel and say it out loud it can help settle our brains and process the feeling.
Tip 3 – Write down your feelings. Get it out your head on to a piece of paper. I have a little journal to dump mine and then I can decide what I want to do about them.
So, next time you feel an emotion that makes you uncomfortable, give yourself permission to feel it, give it a name, write it down and let it go.
My coach friend, Tilla Brook, together with graphic illustrator, Vanessa Randle (the illustrator of my first book Suddenly Single book) have created some activity sheets to help healthcare professionals on the front line to be with their emotions when they are going through a wobble!
I love the sheets – I hope you do too.
Please feel free to use them and share them with friends and colleagues.