Surviving Difficult Emotions

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By UB therapist Eric Herskowitz, LCPC

Difficult emotions. I can already feel my desire to avoid the topic altogether as I type and think about this topic. This may feel like the easiest way to address and cope with the effects of complex and powerful emotions, but it just makes these emotions more forceful and the affects long lasting. Difficult emotions such as anxiety, anger, sadness, fear, or loneliness can all have different affects on ourselves and our relationships which makes it important for us to learn how to cope with these emotions effectively.

An important part of understanding our difficult emotions is understanding how difficult emotions affect us. As you experience difficult emotions, turn your awareness inward. Start this strategy with a few deep, slow, and controlled breaths and take a body inventory. As you start to breathe, notice any sensations throughout your body. You may want to start at your feet and slowly move up your body as you become aware of each of your body parts and the affect the
emotion is having on your body. As you practice this strategy, sit with the emotion. It is important that you maintain a sense of gentleness and kindness for yourself. The key in this kind of practice is to listen in a nonjudgemental way to your emotions and listen to your body. By not bottling up or ignoring the affect of these difficult emotions, you are decreasing the might of this entity.

As you become more aware of the affect of these emotions on your body begin to identify the emotion. Begin to say to yourself, “this is anger,” or “this is fear.” By using these types of statements, you are identifying the emotion and separating yourself from being one with it. By separating yourself from the difficult emotion, it makes the emotion temporary or destructible.

After you identify the emotional entity, begin to practice some self-compassion. Ask yourself, “if my friend or loved one was experiencing a similar situation, then what would I tell this person?” By thinking or saying these compassionate statements to yourself you begin to weaken the difficult emotion and give yourself the time to heal and grow from the experience. Some compassionate statements might include, “I’m having a really hard time right now,” “take the time I need to heal from this emotion,” “this moment will pass and you will come out strong from
this emotion.” Self-compassion is a way for you to care and nurture yourself while taking power away from that critical voice.

Along with practicing self-compassion, practice a guided imagery technique. Guided imagery will allow you to visualize the difficult emotion with an image that works best for you or a pre-recorded script. By visualizing the difficult emotion as a dark cloud over head or rough seas in front of you, you can begin to visualize the cloud passing you by or a slow and controlled rhythm that mimics your breath to the sea in front of you. This allows you to externalize the difficult emotion and begin the process of letting it go. You can find some pre-recorded guided imagery
scripts on YouTube.

Many people find creative expression as a major tool to cope with difficult emotions. When you experience difficult emotions journaling or utilizing other creative expressions can help accept and create insight to understand these emotions. As you begin to write, describe your emotions with your senses and describe it as it were a person or entity. Begin to visualize this being and the affect it is having on you. You may find it beneficial to draw or dance the experience of this difficult emotion. As you begin to describe and accept this emotion further, begin to become your own investigative reporter. Take notice of the events leading up to the difficult emotion. Did someone say something to you? Were you or your values threatened in anyway? By expressing these thoughts in a creative manner it opens up the path to healing and developing further insight to the difficult emotion.

Finally, a great strategy to coping with difficult emotions includes continuing your journey in therapy. Work with your therapist to continue to develop these skills and develop insight into this emotional entity.

Many times we feel lonely or experience shame when these emotions arrive, but you are not alone with these experiences. Utilize your supports and coping methods to decrease the affects of it. By practicing self-compassion and acceptance, you begin the road to healing and loving yourself as a whole.

“Self-care is not selfish or self-indulgent. We cannot nurture others from a dry well. We need to take care of our own needs first, so that we can give from our surplus, our abundance. When we nurture others from a place of fullness, we feel renewed instead of taken advantage of.” —Jennifer Louden