How to sit with painful emotions

Posted on October 1, 2014

Feeling painful emotions, not surprisingly, can be painful. This is why so many of us don’t do it. Instead, we turn to anything that’ll help us get rid of our feelings. As humans, we do everything we can do to reduce our suffering and to avoid pain — emotional or physical. So it is difficult to accept the pain of our emotions and not try to do anything to fight it, said Sheri Van Dijk, MSW, a psychotherapist in Sharon, Ontario, Canada.

However, when we fight the pain: judge it, try to push it away, avoid it, ignore it, it actually triggers other painful emotions, resulting in more emotional pain.We also never learn healthy ways to cope.

Sitting with our emotions simply means allowing them, resisting the urge to get rid of the pain and not judging ourselves for having these emotions.

Van Dijk, also author of the book Calming the Emotional Storm, shared three ways we can sit with our emotions.

1. Observe your emotions
Sit with your emotions by noting what you’re experiencing without judging yourself.

2. Validate your emotions
Validating your emotions means accepting them. It allows you to focus on solving the problem(s).

3. Focus on the present
It’s also helpful to focus our attention on the present, instead of “wallowing” in the experience. We wallow when we fixate on the feeling, judge ourselves or judge the person or situation that triggered our feelings. We may dwell on the situation and ruminate about the details.

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Source material from Psych Central