51. How to Embrace Your Emotions
Welcome to episode 51 of the Mindful Weight Loss Podcast. I am your host and your coach, Emily Erekuff and today I am talking about how to embrace your emotions.
And I use the term embrace here on purpose and I want you to notice it and think about what it means. Because most of the time when we think about interacting with our emotions we talk about "dealing" with them or "managing" them, and you can see just by that terminology that we see them as a necessary evil.
Even those of us who know our emotions are important to look at and that they can't be avoided, we still view are interactions with them as a means to an end. We reluctantly say, "Ok, I'll feel them if I have to." But the ultimate goal isn't to feel them, it's to get over them, get passed them and onto something better. "I'll feel them but only because that's going to get rid of them."
Clearly we don't appreciate the emotions themselves, and what they do for us. And I think that's in part because we have trouble separating them from the thoughts they reflect. Even when we think in terms of cognitive behavioral therapy, we lump all the negative together. A negative thought leads to negative emotions which lead to negative actions and we want to avoid all of it.
And what we need to do instead is separate our thoughts from our emotions and see our emotions and our entire emotional system as something entirely on its on and existing for an entirely different purpose.
You may think a negative thought with the intent to punish yourself, but the resulting emotional pain you feel isn't meant to be a punishment. On the contrary it's meant to free you. It's meant to wake you up to the fact that your thought or belief isn't true.
Your emotions are your body's interpretations of your thoughts and they act as a very clear barometer of truth. If a thought feels good, it's true and if a thought feels bad, it's false. Deep down we know what is true and when our brains lie to us and attack us, we feel pain as a response. That emotional pain arises because of that internal conflict. You might think "I'm hopeless" and that feels bad because deep down you know it's not true. Deep in your gut, you know your true worth.
And so contrary to how these emotions feel, they are truly your allies. Every time your brain attacks you or lies to you or tries to infringe on your freedom and tell you that you have to do this or that, your emotions are fighting against that. When you tell yourself that you are unworthy, your painful emotions are like inarticulate screams that you are indeed worthy. Your emotions can't use words, and really words wouldn't be good enough in a situation like this. Words can be manipulated and twisted by our brains and this connection we have to ultimate truth is primal. Our emotions are prior to language.
And so I hope you can see here that your painful emotions aren't the problem, it's the false beliefs and thoughts that are the problem. And you really don't want to shoot the messenger, because the messenger really does have good news. Yes, it hurts to find out that we are being lied to and we might initially want to deny it, but in the end we are always better off knowing the truth. The truth sets us free. Your emotions are clamoring for you to know the truth so that you can be free.
And you might have noticed that I was rather harsh in the way I spoke about our brains. I said that our brains punish us, lie to us, attack us, and twist and manipulate the meanings of words. But truly, it's all for our own protection. Even when we seek to punish ourselves it's only so we can avoid punishment from others.
It's all for our own protection even though sometimes it's misguided or downright mistaken. And I hope you can see that and feel immense compassion for yourself.
Shame is one of the primary ways we keep ourselves in line and make sure we don't deviate from the norm or break any rules lest we be ostracized by our society. And we're so used to this shame that when we turn toward self help and see that our thoughts are shameful, we shame ourselves for those shameful thoughts.
Again and again the conclusion is "I am wrong."
"What's wrong with you?"
I cringe every time I hear that phrase come out of my mouth or another parent's mouth when our children act out, and even as aware as I am of not passing that onto my children, it still does come out of my mouth at times because that's what was said to me when I was out of line.
I still catch myself thinking "what's wrong with me?" a lot and I've been working on this stuff for years. The good news though is that as soon as I say it now, that train of thought stops. And in fact that phrase now is kind of a blessing because it grabs my attention in this way. It's like a tripwire that triggers my awareness.
And that's just what painful, uncomfortable emotions are meant to do. They aren't meant to grab your attention. And that's why when we ignore them they just get stronger.
When a child feels restricted and restrained, isn't their instinct to be upset? When they feel unheard, isn't their instinct to yell? When they feel unseen, isn't their instinct to act out? And yet yelling, crying or throwing a tantrum are embarrassing behaviors and probably even grounds for punishment as far as society is concerned.
And if we're not outright punished for our emotions, we're often judged for them. Seriousness and responsibility are to be praised, but to be emotional is weak or silly.
And yet emotions are primal communication. It's through tears and upset that we get our needs met when we are babies. It's literally what we were programmed from birth to do - to experience and communicate upset in times of in-balance so that balance can be restored.
But then society conditions that out of us. As children our upset over someone taking our toy is seen as unimportant or silly, but doesn't that infringe on our freedom? Isn't that important?
And by the time we're adults, we've learned to expertly ignore our feelings, our needs, our truth. We come to believe that we must do things that violate our sense of truth - like work at a job you hate to pay the mortgage. And we learn to ignore the emotions that are trying to tell us that this doesn't work and that the opposite is true.
And you know we overreact about our own emotions, which is pretty ironic. Because we ignore them we make them bigger than they need to be. We think thy will overwhelm us or that we'll have to turn our entire lives upside down in order to fix them.
But all we need to do is to start listening and paying attention to them. We simply need to hold them - hold space for them and allow them to be there.
One of my favorite quotes is from the German-Swiss poet, Herman Hesse, in which he says, "You know quite well, deep within you, that there is only a single magic, a single power, a single salvation...and that is called loving. Well, then, love your suffering. Do not resist it, do not flee from it. It is your aversion that hurts, nothing else."
Your feelings are like children who simply want to be seen, heard and loved. And that single magic is all that they need. Ask yourself, what happens when you love your suffering?
One of the most powerful experiences I had as a parent was maybe a year ago when my then 5-year old daughter had a tantrum. I don't remember what she did, but I put her in time-out and told her she needed to sit in a chair for maybe five minutes. And boy did she think that was unfair and boy did she express that.
And I was so strangely proud of the situation. I was proud of myself for letting her express herself and also being firm, and I was so proud of her for having the discipline to sit in that chair and experience that rage. She yelled and pounded her fists and she was so uncomfortable, and she was also so brave. And you know in the end when the rage seemed to pass through her she just wanted to be held; she just wanted to love me and be loved. And that love always wins out if we let it.
And if you listened to last week's podcast, you'll recall that I had you ask your conflicting desires to step aside so that you could feel yourself in the middle. And you can do the same thing with your emotions so that you can more easily learn to embrace them. And yes a craving to eat when you're not hungry is an emotion.
So the next time you feel yourself in the grips of an urge or notice yourself begin to feel something negative, identify and isolate the feeling, and ask it to step aside. Even as you feel the sensations in your body, visualize some space between the feeling and you. And then visualize your emotion as a child standing near you.
And allow that child to express herself as you witness her. See her, hear her, empathize with her. Be with her, and from your vantage point, offer her love. Embrace her and thank her for the deeper truth she's trying to communicate to you even if you don't know what that is yet. And know that this child is your ally and that she's teaching you to be there for yourself and to love and honor yourself no matter what.
I hope you enjoyed this episode and I will see you next week.