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How Do We Engage With And Relate To Difficult Emotions?

Updated: Jan 26, 2020

We all experience difficult moments. We feel lonely, sad, worried, angry, misunderstood. Sometimes these difficult moments can be bearable, where we feel resilient enough to overcome them. And other times--maybe a lot of times--these difficult moments can feel paralyzing, debilitating, traumatizing. We feel stuck. We feel that there is absolutely no way we'll be able to make it through to the other side. We feel like there won't be a light at the end of the tunnel.

What do we do?

I think for me, I tend to want to escape, avoid, or run away. I tend to use a lot of humor. I may send texts to loved ones that mention some painful experiences with lots of "looools" at the end.


Other ways of escaping or coping include: eating, using substances, binge watching shows, having sex, going on social media, daydreaming. There are also more adaptive ways of coping, right? Like: talking to loved ones, going for a walk, listening to calming, relaxing music, meditating, doing some yoga, journaling.

Coping skills are great, whether they're adaptive or not. We need these skills especially when the pain is too much to bear. These skills help us find ways to calm ourselves, to come back to homeostasis before we can begin to touch gently the deep suffering that we're experiencing or have experienced. It can be a bit complicated to know what the appropriate balance is; a balance between using our coping skills and pausing, and sitting.

I love the "this is fine" gif because it represents some options we can take when pain rears its head. We can sit and avoid. We can sit and become aware of what's happening and take some steps to remedy the situation. After we're safe, away from the fire, maybe that's when we pause. And, breathe. And, reflect on what happened -- how were we feeling? What were we thinking? How did we get up and muster up the strength to put out the fire or call to ask for help? How did our bodies feel? Can we say something kind and supportive to ourselves, like: "I am so so so proud of you for how you handled that situation." Can we sit with our pain, see our pain, and simply say: "I see you. I hear you. I understand why you're here. I'm going to take care of you. I'm going to take care of us."

There's this poem by Rumi that I love. I'll share it below. It's so powerful to think of these difficult experiences or emotions or thoughts as OK-- to practice having acceptance around them. To notice them, to give them the comfort they need, to not completely identify with them, and to let them go. I sometimes tell clients that I think of our emotions as children. Sometimes the angry child shows up and we just have to hug it or ask it what it needs or tell it, "hey. It's OK. I love you." Sometimes the lonely child shows up, and again, it's all OK. We can comfort the child and let it go play.

My hope for us is that we're able to sit with all of our emotions, whether joyful or sad, and be willing to give them the nourishment that they so desperately need and want. They're asking to be seen and comforted, just like we were asking to be seen and comforted as children.

Thank you for reading.

Thank you for being.


This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they're a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

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At times, in the grips of fear, stress, loneliness, we forget that we belong, that there's magic. May this poem remind you of your magic.


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