Actively processing your emotions with your eyes wide open can allow you to experience new insights, especially if you have never attempted to purposefully allow this process to happen before. However, before you begin down the path to processing, you must first be open to what Avoiding, Resisting, and Reacting looks like when it comes to your emotions.
Let’s say someone has said something, done something, or acted a certain way toward you. As a result, you have a thought about what their words or actions meant, then an emotion unfolds you don’t want to experience so you choose to Avoid, Resist, and/or React. But, what does Avoiding, Resisting, and Reacting to an emotion look like?
Avoiding comes in many forms, watching Netflix and chilling while eating our favorite food, escaping through the drug of our choice, shopping, looking at porn, and gambling are just some examples of avoiding emotions we would rather not deal with.
Resisting is like Avoiding, and often works in conjunction with it. In addition to Avoiding through comfort actions, we choose to tell ourselves, “there is no problem,” “It’s all good,” or “I’m fine.” These are a few example statements we claim when we are resisting an emotion.
Reacting would involve screaming, lashing out, raising our voice, and even “The silent treatment.”
If you feel stuck, if you are doubting yourself all the time, if you are unsure of your meaning or purpose in life, then there might be emotions you are avoiding and need to explore. Allow yourself to observe each emotion. Allowing means feeling the pain, it means being angry, sad, lonely, afraid, all of the emotions, all at once. You might go down the path where you start to justify, explain and get stuck in the pride and shame cycle of life. There is no need to explain; this is just you, sitting with your thoughts.
“Thoughts are just Data” is one of my favorite sayings; it makes me realize that we are more than our thoughts and actions and we can choose to be more. I’d like to offer that what you feel and think in that moment after someone does something or acts a certain way might not actually be what it appears to be. It could be an old emotion you have chosen not to deal with, and so it keeps reoccurring in your life.
Here are a few things to remember to do when processing emotions:
Name the pain, what it feels like, and where it is in your body. What thoughts are you experiencing? Don’t try to justify or explain anything. Just sit in it. Then say, “I am processing this pain.”
Realize it was the thought of the past creating the present emotion, and you can finally let it go. You have allowed it to be processed.
No one outside of you needs to fix you, you are not broken. You can allow yourself to feel emotions, knowing that you are 100% lovable, with this pain or without it. You don’t need to prove anything to anyone. Your eyes will be open to possibilities that you would have never imagined because you decided to process this emotion instead of Avoiding, Resisting, and/or Reacting.
As a Life Coach, I hold a safe space, a space for growth, for clients to learn how to process thoughts and emotions. Purposefully processing emotions has changed my life and my relationships with others, as well as my relationship with myself. Processing is allowing yourself to decide to let go and move forward. Only through deciding to move forward, without knowing all the answers, and without blame, have I been able to prove to myself that I can be fierce.
“I just can’t, it’s their fault, why do I have to,” these are statements that I have said myself quite a few times, well actually many times, in my life. Each time I found myself thinking these things, feelings of defeat and hopelessness would come over me. Then I began to ask myself why am I choosing to believe these thoughts and what is the result in my life from believing these thoughts?
When I stand in my space believing I am justified in my actions, it could be coming from a place of not wanting to take responsibility. If that is the case, that would mean that I am frustrated, sad, or hurt because of how I am responding and not because of what someone did or didn’t do, and that is hard for our ego and pride to here or even explore. By making the choice to be an observer of our thoughts and not a critic, we can start to unravel thoughts and look at it as data and not right or wrong, just information. Then we can take the first step to processing an emotion.
Here is an example I think most of us can relate to:
It’s an elementary school yard and kids are out playing on recess. When we see a young girl, let’s call her Betty, saying mean things to another young girl, let’s call her Sally. Then the teacher would say, “now Betty, you hurt Sally’s feelings you need to say you are sorry.”
At a young age, unknown to us, we are taught that other people’s words make us feel a certain way. What I want to offer is we can explore as adults is that the words, and or actions of others, means nothing to us until we decide to make it mean something to us. This is probably one of the hardest things for us to explore and be open to processing. At one time or another, we might have heard the cliché, “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” The interesting thing is that even as we were saying that phrase, we most likely didn’t have the emotional capacity to truly understand it.
As children we explore so many emotions. If we are not taught how to process the emotions caused by the words and/or actions of another we can get stuck in the blame game. Then, as adults, we find ourselves doing that throughout our life.
Now, in the example I can be the teacher, Sally, or Betty, step back and explore where that thinking was coming from and look at that scenario objectively. Then in return view my own situation. Knowing that we have been in all sides of the equation can help us see things differently. I can relate to the teacher, Sally and Betty as I have been in all those shoes and I would guess you have to.
A classic show of my childhood was Winnie the Pooh. It wasn’t a program I remember watching regularly, but every episode I saw filled my heart with joy. I loved the characters: Pooh, Piglet, Rabbit, Owl, Eeyore, and Tigger, too. Of course, there was also Ro and Kanga from time to time. As an onlooker of the stories, I somehow found myself being drawn to Eeyore. I drew pictures of Eeyore, had a stuff animal Eeyore, and just in general adored that character.
I thought it curious that I was attracted to the character that had a gloomy disposition. It seems the exact opposite of who I am. People I have worked with, as well as friends and family, have told me I have a happy soul. I’m often told, “You are always so happy.” Seeing the good in people is a skill that I have, and I work on it daily. Yet I know that life is truly 50/50; 50 good and 50 bad, and just because I see the good does not mean that I don’t notice the bad, too. I often wondered was my beloved Eeyore gloomy, or was he just truly being honest about what he saw and felt?
Eeyore was known for saying things like, “It’s not much of a tail, but I am sort of attached to it” or “I’ll most likely lose it again, anyways.” Is it gloominess he is expressing or just straight truth? He is attached to his tail, and yes, we can lose things more than just once. So, his statement is, in fact, truth.
Each character expressed different views on subject matter but still remained great friends despite their differences. They didn’t try to change each other due to those differences. We all have people around us who hold different beliefs and views on various topics. We could all learn a few things from Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends. They didn’t focus on their differences, further driving them apart. Instead, they used their individual skills and perspectives to appreciate each other more by listening to one another and loving each other unconditionally.
When I had my two boys, I bought them each a stuffed character from Winnie the Pooh. Triston, my eldest, received Pooh; he was a thinker and had a calm and peaceful demeanor. Then came Keith, he was an all-out Tigger; full of bounce, and came out kicking two months early. He was just a ball of action. I didn’t think much of it, I just gave them a stuffed animal I felt reminded me of them.
I saw in my boys what I chose to see and gave them characters that represented those qualities. Now that they are older, as I am too, I recognize they have qualities of each of the characters in my favorite Pooh time stories. Sometimes, my boys are Eeyore and other times they are Piglet, then again, they have Owl and Rabbit moments, too. Then there are those days they are Tigger, and days that they are Pooh.
Could it be that when we label someone that we may be labeling ourselves? Is what I choose to see in another something I see in myself? This is why I believe that having unconditional love is a gift I am choosing to give myself. When I choose to love someone I disagree with, choosing to love them could mean that I am choosing to love myself. Like The Hundred Acres Wood crew, I also choose to focus on appreciating the differences of those around me, listen to them, and hold unconditional love for them.
It is a beautiful day and you are feeling joy in your heart. You are outside riding your bike down the country road, enjoying all around you the beauty as you hear the birds singing and feel a light wind blowing. The warmth from the sun shines on your face as you breath in the clean, fresh air. Then from out of nowhere you hit a huge pothole and fall off your bike hitting the pavement with an abrupt force. As you try to break your fall, your knee ends up taking the brunt of it all and is now bleeding and scraped by the rough asphalt. You’re laying on the side of the road, crying holding your knee and feeling excruciating pain.
Now what images came to your mind as you read this opening paragraph? Could you imagine it being a beautiful day riding your bike? Just by reading those words could you see it? Could you feel the sun, smell the air, see yourself on the bike? When I described the fall and the hitting of the knee, could you feel it? Could you actually feel the pain? That my friend is just how powerful our brains are.
We can be sitting in our home cuddled up with a good book and feel every emotion, see every event in our mind as we are reading the words from the pages. One reason an avid reader would say that the movie wasn’t as good as the book was the detail and images that their mind was creating can’t even compare to that on the big screen. Our mind is absolutely amazing! A favorite movie of mine is A Beautiful Mind with Russell Crow. The idea that this character was seeing something he believed to be absolutely real was enthralling to me. To his mind, it was just as real as if he were standing in a room talking to someone. That is powerful, and we my friends have that kind of power.
So, here is my question to you for today: How do you, or can you, outsmart your own thoughts?
One of the biggest challenges in life can be getting clear on what it is you want. We have a potpourri of options and decisions to make on a daily basis. One thing I have to remind myself of daily is that my brain was designed for survival.
Imagine walking on a trail and suddenly spotting a snake. It would not serve you to analyze if you should be scared or not. It is a good thing that we have that knee jerk reaction that it might be dangerous. That built-in reaction could save your life. This instinctual ability to know when something is frightening is born in your limbic system; I call this “autopilot,” and it keeps us safe. However, it is also what makes growth so challenging as it wants us to stay in our comfort zones. Reminding our brains that we are in charge of our own thoughts is truly the challenge. This is where we need to remind our brains to activate the creation area of our prefrontal cortex in order to stretch and grow and move outside of our comfort zones.
My autopilot is always wanting to keep me safe. It wants me to figure out the easiest route to get out of a tough situation based on what I already know. Such maxims as “have the courage to face the fear and do it anyways” are ways to help remind our mind that we are in charge and not to follow its natural instinct to run just because something is hard or scary. Taking a moment to write thoughts down can make a difference in helping our beautiful minds sort out what is real and what is not.
I leave you with this thought about the movie A Beautiful Mind. The professor, once he was shown that his thoughts where thoughts and not real people, found ways to cope and even found humor in his disease. People outside him could not tell him how to solve his problem, but being open and honest made it so his life was not just bearable, but enjoyable. That is why clients work with me. I will show you your thinking. Then you get to decide.
I was about eight when I was given my first journal. I remember my parents giving all of us kids journals at a family evening activity. I am guessing keeping a journal was the topic, but for me all I remember was receiving that journal. Then a few years later for Christmas my Great grandma, Sophie, gave all her grandkids journals as a Christmas gift. That is also the only memory I have of that Christmas; her picture was inside of it and it is something I treasure. In both memories, the act of being given a journal meant something to me, even at a young age I wanted to record my thoughts.
Inconsistently over the years I have kept a journal. Whether it was notes of the day, a calendar of events, or writing in a journal, keeping and documenting my thoughts seemed to matter to me. But, I couldn’t be consistent with it.
It is consistency that I think most of us lack and are, at times, a little perplexed as to why we can’t be consistent with writing down our daily thoughts. Is it that we run short on topics and content? Do we find that we are living the same repeated pattern, just on a different day?
Then why bother journaling, and what difference would it make if I do?
Reflecting on where I was then to where I am now truly helped me gain a perspective that might only have happened through keeping a journal. When you decide to keep a journal, you are deciding to grow as a person through self-reflection.
Every day I am trying to live a life on purpose. A life with openness and curiosity. In my old journal writing days I was a master at finding blame, excuses, and reasons why “others” had made it “impossible” for me to do what I wanted to do. I had truly mastered being a victim and playing that part. There are still times I might find my thoughts going down that road of victimhood, but now from creating more awareness, I can catch myself before it gets to a point that my thoughts and actions are not serving me or the people around me that I love.
For this reason, my old victimhood journals are priceless to me, not because I want to relive the pain, but because I had captured my thinking process in real time. These are emotions and thoughts during a time when I felt I couldn’t breathe. I can’t second guess my decision when I made them in the past from what I knew then. If I am truly evolving as a person, I will have gained more insight as my view could have changed over time. Looking back, I can feel the pain, but I know that pain was multiplied due to my own thoughts. Seeing that growth makes my journals that much more valuable to me.
Here are a few questions and tips that might help you in your journal writing endeavors:
Why are you deciding to take note of your life?
It is important to not judge yourself when asking this question instead ask with curiosity.
How do you want to take note?
Will you be doing hard copy or digital?
When will you journal?
Find a time a place a routine that you are willing to fit into your life.
Lastly, not a question but a suggestion: don’t beat yourself up if you fall of the wagon. We all fall off the wagon at some point. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have had to get up after falling of the wagon. Remember give yourself and others grace. As we could use more of that in our world.