Sometimes, discomfort and harm go together. For example, putting your hand on a hot stove is both painful and dangerous.
But other times, discomfort does not signal of danger. For example, writing a book, asking someone out on a date and running a marathon are all activities that may cause discomfort. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s dangerous to do these things.
Emotions are like that.
Feeling emotions can be uncomfortable – but they’re not harmful.
Scientists tell us that there are four core emotions: anger, sadness, happiness and fear. Otherwise know as mad, sad, glad and afraid. Guess which three of the four we humans actively run away from on a regular basis?
You got it! We run away from our anger, fear and sadness/grief.
Many of us run away from happiness as well. But that’s another story for another day.
Here’s what happens when we suppress our emotions for long periods of time: anxiety. Chronic pain. And other pesky symptoms.It takes a LOT of energy to suppress emotion. And since what we resist, persists – over time, all that suppression wreaks havoc on our physiology. For more information I recommend reading Dr. John Sarno’s landmark book called The Mindbody Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing the Pain.
So why do we run away from emotions?
Our mind believes that discomfort is dangerous. Our mind is constantly trying to protect us from feeling our uncomfortable feelings. It’s a survival response.
There’s a brain structure deep in the center of our head that we share in common with reptiles (this structure is actually wrapped like a lizard’s tail around our brain stem). This part of our brain is wired purely for survival and eager to jump into red alert mode. The slightest thing will trigger it’s alarm bells. Since anger, fear and sadness can be deeply uncomfortable, our “lizard brain” gets worried for our survival and sounds the alarm.
The lizard brain is fond of this refrain:
Run for your life! Run for the hills! Don’t look back!
This over-protectiveness is well-meaning but fundamentally flawed.
Feeling emotions is not harmful. But suppressing emotion IS harmful.
Our emotions are a navigational guidance system showing us everything from where our boundaries are to who we can trust and can’t trust. There is life-saving wisdom buried within the raw energy of our emotions. We NEED the messages that are embedded in our emotions in order to live our healthiest and most joyful life possible. Emotions help us to make good decisions. Without them, it’s like driving blind. It’s hard to steer when you can’t see where you’re going!
No wonder we have a hard time making decisions.
No wonder we say things like: I didn’t see that coming. Have you ever felt blind-sided by life? I certainly have.
Without emotional awareness, our health and life goes off-track.
Emotions live in our body (not mind) and they manifest as visceral sensations. For example, anger may feel like heat in the chest. Fear might show up as a knot in the stomach. Grief may feel as if a cold, gray stone is in the heart. Joy could feel like a tingling sensation in the hands or crown of the head. It’s different for everyone.
Something really cool happens when we enter into a direct experience of feeling our sensations.
When we get present with the pure energy of the emotion in our physical body, the truth becomes crystal clear: this energy isn’t harmful.
(And not nearly as uncomfortable as the mind would have us believe.)
Every day I hold space for my clients to feel their anger, sadness and fear.
Each time, I gently remind them:
It’s not harmful. It’s uncomfortable.
And all it wants is your presence.
This last piece is truly amazing. Why? Our presence is magical.
Our presence alone can change our body. Presence itself is healing. The magic of our presence is that it unwinds and undoes and untangles the knots within us. It dissolves the seemingly undissolvable.
Presence is the ultimate healer.
Here’s why: presence is actually love. They’re one and the same thing. To be present with something is to love it. That’s why a child always begs to be seen. Mom! Look at me! A child wants love. Dad! Watch me!And to be truly seen, is to be loved.
More than anything, we humans want to be seen. And our anger, grief, fear and joy simply want the same thing. Look at me!
Pure presence. No resistance. Pure allowing.
Next time you’re feeling the discomfort of anger, fear or sadness/grief, gently remind yourself:
This isn’t harmful. It’s uncomfortable.
And all it wants is my presence.
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Uma Sanghvi, Anxiety Coach
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