Welcome back to Restorative Grief with Mandy Capehart. You are listening to episode 56, titled “And Now, We Embrace the Emotions.” Do you ever name difficult emotions, or just try to will yourself into feeling differently? We often say we need to feel our feelings, but that’s not really as helpful as we think. This week, we’re going to learn a little technique to name, embrace, and observe our emotions in a way that leads us out of frustration and into wholeness.
Before we get on the road here, let’s take a moment and name the differences between feelings or emotions, because they’re not necessarily interchangeable, and that is part of our confusion in the first place. Our feelings can be one component of an emotional experience, but feelings are experienced consciously and usually through our bodies. They don’t necessarily relate to an emotional experience, and they are pretty continuous, giving us an understanding or a “readout” of our internal state of being.
Emotions, on the other hand, are a specific conscious or subconscious response to an event. They can affect our thoughts and body responses, as well as influence our behaviors, especially when it comes to an emotion like fear (or other uncomfortable emotions) causing our body to prepare for a response. They affect our nervous system before we can even rationalize what is happening.
But most importantly, our emotions are automatic and unconscious meaning, we don’t choose an emotion to experience and then stir it up from deep inside. I wish that were the case, but that’s where positive psychology proponents veer into far left field with toxic positivity.
And now that we have a little understanding of the difference between feelings and emotions, hopefully you can see why “feel your feelings” isn’t completely helpful. It has nothing to do with the emotional responses or the source of those emotions. That phrase helps us identify how we’re experiencing the emotion in our bodies, but doesn’t empower us to recognize the source and make a shift in the way we think about, experience, and move through our emotions.
Let’s return to the first question I asked: How often do we name and embrace our emotions? By name, I mean how often do we check in and say, “Oh, I’m experiencing sadness. This feels like weight in my chest and a racing heart – I think this could be fear.”
By naming what is going on for us, we can see it as a separate thing from our identity. It’s easy to say, “I’m sad, or I’m afraid,” but that puts an awful lot of power into the hands of our emotions and often this is the reason we don’t know where to begin to move through the emotional explosions we encounter in grief.
Our emotions are separate from who we are as individuals. Naming the emotion gives it separation and from there, we have a little bit more distance to see the source (which may or may not be an obvious one) and to decide what we actually want to emote and feel going forward.
Before we get the second half of deciding what we want emotions and feelings we prefer, we have to do a little embracing first.
The next time you experience or notice a strong emotion rising up, I want you to pause and name it. This morning, I experienced a flood of anger, followed almost immediately by regret. In my situation, it would have been so easy to follow those emotions with feelings of inadequacy, failure, disappointment and more. Instead, I gave myself a moment to close my eyes and place a hand on my chest. With a few measured breaths in and out, I visualized anger and regret standing in front me, embodied. They didn’t have recognizable faces because blaming my emotions on a source isn’t helpful nor is it the point.
But they were separate from me. When you have an emotional reaction to an external event, the internal process that occurs lasts only about 90 seconds. It’s chemical! By taking 90 seconds to breathe and visualize the emotions as separate, we are gaining a lot of kindness toward our very human and uncontrollable experience of life.
The goal with this practice is not to control our emotions – doing so is probably a myth because again, your body is going through an internal reaction to an external stimulus – as it was designed to do. Don’t try to spend 90 seconds changing the emotions. Allow them to exist. This is the embrace. It’s going to feel a bit like a hug that lasts too long, but stick with it. Maybe you incorporate a little soft movement to stay present and move through it, like tilting your neck or wiggling your toes. But keep that emotion visualized and embodied in front of you – not within you.
When the emotion has permission to exist outside of me, observing the emotion becomes possible. I can step away from the overwhelm that floods my mind, body, heart, and spirit. I can see the embodied emotion in front of me and hopefully, start to recognize that the big emotion I see before me is pretty reasonable considering my circumstances. Gosh – it’s almost like those emotions aren’t something I can blame on myself, either. You see, when we learn that emotions are available to be labeled and when we make time to do so, we empower ourselves to experience freedom from a lot of toxic behaviors we’ve integrated into the healing process. We all pick up harmful advice along the way, just trying to heal so please, be gentle with yourself right now.
Once about 90 seconds has passed, check in with yourself. Do you feel differently? Do you want to experience a different emotional response in this moment or going forward? As grievers, we tend to ruminate on emotions and feelings as we attempt to heal. We can become enamored with our own emotional loops, allowing ourselves to get a little lost in the experience of our grief and forsake the story of our loss (and side note, YES – our stories and our experiences of the story are different, but that’s a conversation for another day).
One way to decide if you are emoting and feeling safe in the experience of your story is to assess your core values. What matters to you? When you have a big emotional response that you’re not interested in repeating, check in with the two or three values that you hold as crucial to your wholeness and healing process.
This is how we assess and move forward. We’ve named our emotions, allowed them to exist without trying to change them, and then we have a chance to make some decisions. We can choose to ruminate, trying to cognitively solve a problem that has no solution, like the death of our loved ones. Or we can choose to explore our core values, and the emotions they generate in our lives.
My core value of connection allows me to recognize that when I’m activated in anger and regret, I’m living outside of connection to myself and others. Maybe I can’t change the atmosphere or situation I’m in, but I can allow my emotions 90 seconds (or more, if I’m able) to exist and shift.
Remember; emotions are information. We can easily vilify them, pretending the idea of stiff upper lips is real. Or we can name, embrace, and observe the emotions to regain our sense of peace and develop true emotional resilience.
Thank you for listening to episode 56 of Restorative Grief. There are a few things to remember as you start to engage this practice of naming, embracing, and observing emotions. First of all, this is an easy thing to forget when you’re in the height of a big emotional flood! Be kind to yourself. Maybe set an alarm and schedule 3 minutes a day to assess your emotions when you’re not feeling overwhelmed. It’s also really easy to get discouraged if you emote and forget this tool of support. This is a muscle you’re building, so it’s going to take time and it will not be perfect. But giving yourself permission to do it after the big emotion occurs is also a part of building this muscle. Be kind to yourself. This all takes time.
If this is your first time listening to Restorative Grief, welcome! Thank you for making space in your day to connect with me and yourself. I hope you feel encouraged and even cautiously optimistic about your own grief story and experience. Please make time to leave a review and subscribe so you won’t miss any of our weekly episodes and interviews and also, consider sharing this episode with someone else who might find a little tool around emotional resilience meaningful. This resource is here for you – and it’s not possible without listeners and supporters so thank you again for sticking with me and continuing to share this work with your own circle.
And one last thing, as always. Please remember, the only solution for grief is to do the work of grieving. Thank you for listening. I’ll see you next week!
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