Emotions can be so confusing at times and many of us want to immediately be rid of what we are feeling, especially when those emotions become overwhelming. As part of the human race we experience emotions and our emotions really do serve a purpose for us. They serve a purpose in our lives, our relationships, our jobs, our families and they even keep us safe in certain situations, so we want to be able to feel those emotions and learn from them. The challenge is to not get locked up in the emotions or to be so focused on them that the emotions take over our very being. The primary definition that explains emotions best for me is this: “A mental state that arises spontaneously rather than through conscious effort and is often accompanied by physiological changes; a feeling: the emotions of joy, sorrow, reverence, hate, and love.” I like to define words often so as to ensure everyone is on the same page as different words mean different things to different people. Now that I’ve clarified what emotions are, the question is how do they truly serve us? And can we get rid of them? I’ll first start with how our emotions serve us and then discuss releasing them.
Emotions provide us pertinent information in our lives. If someone is experiencing guilt for example, I pose the question to that person “What purpose is guilt serving for you?” Generally speaking, the answer comes back that the person is feeling guilty about what they did so they know not to do it again. Perfect. Guilt served its purpose to teach that person where they stand on a specific issue and guilt is speaking to say please do not repeat that behavior again, it has consequences you don’t like. Now, once the person has come to realize the purpose for the feeling, does it serve a purpose to feel those feelings any longer? I say no. At the point one learns the reason for the feeling, he/she can choose to let it go and release it. It may come back from time to time on that particular issue as a reminder, but there is no real reason to keep holding on to it. If the person cannot let it go, there is more to be learned about those feelings of guilt. I would ask the person to delve deeper to discover the reason he/she is holding onto that guilt. Asking yourself questions is crucial to uncovering what purpose an emotion is serving or why you are holding on to it.
Ultimately, if there is no need to hold onto it, we can choose in our minds to release it.
If using the mind is not working effectively to release the emotion, there is somatic work we can do to help release it further. We can breathe deeply through our nose, hold for a few seconds, and exhale out our nose slowly. We can repeat this exercise over and over and allow the feeling to be present and let it slowly dissipate out of our being. If there is still a remnant of the feeling, we can sit with it quietly and let it be there without fighting it. Fighting our feelings creates a counterforce and makes the feelings come on stronger, so sitting with those feelings helps to take away some or all of the power away from our feelings.
A final exercise that I personally use is a powerful exercise that I found through Eckhart Tolle’s work. It truly helps to keep me in the present moment and focusing on the now. You use your mind to put your attention first on your feet and hold your attention there for 5-15 seconds then move up the body to the ankles for 5-15 seconds, then to the lower legs for 5-15 seconds and continually move up the body doing this pattern until you reach the head and focused there for 5-15 seconds. In most cases, the attention has been moved to our bodies and we have become so relaxed that the feeling has passed and served its full purpose.
There are cases where the emotions we are feeling are much larger than what is being discussed here, grief for example, which requires we talk to someone and do much deeper work in order to manage through those particular emotions. Grief is not intended to move out of our lives so quickly and much more work needs to be done around letting go of grief and sadness.
One can use all of the techniques I’ve mentioned time and again as different emotions surface. Be patient through the process as some emotions have more to teach us than others and won’t go away until we delve deep enough to learn what they are trying to teach us.