3 Secrets To Transforming Stuck Emotional Patterns
Are you a sensitive person who feels just a bit too much? Do you struggle with cycling anxiety or self-criticism? Do you sometimes just wish your emotions would go away and give you a break?
It may not seem like it, but even though your emotions may be causing problems for you, your emotions themselves are not the problem. If you have tried every healing technique and self-help practice out there and you just can’t seem to get them to work, I can assure you that the problem is not you.
In order to successfully shift cycling emotions and stuck emotional patterns, it is crucial to understand and apply these 3 principles.
#1) The Middle Way
One of the reasons why emotions get a bad rap is because we are rarely taught any skills specific to our emotions, so we grow up thinking that we only have two options when we feel an emotion: letting our emotions dictate our behavior with no control (expression), or pushing them away and refusing to feel them at all (repression).
Consider our modern stereotypes of the stoic husband who never shows his feelings, and the hysterical wife who can't control her feelings. Do either of these stereotypes feel healthy to you? They very effectively illustrate the extremes of repression and expression, and the problems with both.
We all know how the uninhibited expression of emotions like anger and rage can be damaging to the people on the receiving end of them. And at the same time, there is plenty of research out there on the negative health effects of suppressing those emotions.
If these were truly our only options, it would make sense to think of emotions as nothing more than obstacles to a healthy life. Luckily, instead of struggling to never feel emotions or letting them dictate our behavior, we have a third option, a way of feeling our emotions and acting on them with conscious intention.
This Middle Way relates to the Buddhist concept of the same name in how it involves mindfulness: taking a cognitive “pause” between feeling an emotion and acting on it. In this moment of self-reflection, we must first identify which emotions we are feeling, because we can’t work with our emotions very well if we can’t accurately identify them!
Once we’ve identified the emotions then we can question them to discover why they are arising. Our emotions always arise to serve a specific purpose, and if we are able to discern that purpose, how we need to act on that emotion becomes clear. You can read more about how to put this into practice here.
And figuring out what our emotions are trying to tell us doesn’t have to involve guesswork. The model of emotions I use in my work, Dynamic Emotional Integration® (DEI), clearly outlines the purpose of the 17 emotions and the specific questions to ask of each of them. These are all included in my guide to Unlocking Your Emotional Genius, which you will receive if you sign up for The Unlocked Heart newsletter.
But for now, let’s move on to the second secret to working effectively with our emotions.
#2) Freedom of Flow
People tend to become aware of their emotions only when they arise strongly - what some call their mood state. In fact, emotions arise at many levels of intensity, but we just aren’t taught to recognize them in their softer forms.
And this is important, because when we honor their message and act on them when they arise in their soft state, they will hardly ever have to ramp up to their highest intensity. It is almost always easier to feel and work with our emotions at this softer level.
To illustrate how our emotions are continuously operating in this softer way, let me walk you through a simple exercise. After you read this, close your eyes, lean forward a bit, and listen for the quietest sound in the room. Try to extend your awareness to hear the most subtle sounds. .... Now open your eyes.
You were just accessing your soft fear! Fear is present any time we are aware of our surroundings, keeping us alert and connected to our instincts. I can only imagine what chaos we would experience when sharing the road with other drivers, if no one had their fear running quietly in the background!
All of our emotions operate in this same way. Soft anger gives us our ability to speak up for ourselves in conflicts, and to firmly say no when we need to set a boundary. Soft shame ensures that we consider others in our choices and actions, so that we can behave in kind and honorable ways. And so on.
When each of our emotions are working properly in our psyche, each able to do the job they were biologically designed to do, they will ebb and flow through us with ease. Healthy emotional flow is the key to inner peace!
And this requires that we honor all of our emotions, because when we try to control this flow, by seeking to feel certain ones while pushing other ones away, we end up blocking the flow altogether. And that leads us straight to the last, and most important, principle for effective emotional functioning:
#3) Neutralize the "Negative"
There are no good and bad emotions; all emotions bring vital messages and are key to our emotional intelligence. The single quickest way to create stuck emotional patterns is to label every emotion other than happiness as "negative", because then we would naturally end up repressing or denying them.
The truth is, all of our emotions arise for a reason - bringing us valuable information and moving us into action - so when we refuse to feel our emotions and listen to what they are telling us, they don't go away. Instead they just keep banging on the door, getting louder and causing more of a ruckus.
Can you think of anyone in your life that bottles up their anger, most of the time refusing to say how they feel or set healthy boundaries, but then occasionally exploding all over the place? Just like a teakettle building up steam, exiling any emotion from our psyche has dire consequences.
Even if we are successful in “keeping the lid” on the emotion we are trying not to feel, the consequences will come out in other ways. When any emotion isn’t allowed to do its job (when its message goes unheard), other emotions will step in to try to accomplish the same goal. But because they are not designed to fulfill the same purpose, their attempt will inevitably fail, causing them to get stronger and stronger as they continue to try to help us.
When an emotion is allowed to flow, it will naturally come to the forefront of our psyche and then recede into the background again, once its job is done. But when an emotion cannot do its job (either because we are ignoring it or because it is trying to fill in for an emotion that has been exiled) the result is - you guessed it - cycling emotions that just won’t ever stop.
This is why valencing emotions as “positive” or “negative” is a sure-fire way to become embroiled in a massive inner struggle. In the long run, we always end up the loser of that struggle.
But there’s hope!
We can step out of that struggle entirely by learning to honor all of our emotions as a vital part of our inner genius. This is especially important for empathic people who naturally feel strongly, because when our emotions feel overwhelming, it is all too easy to fall into that struggle.
Keeping our heads above the water gets so much easier to do once we learn why each of our emotions arise within us, because we can then take the action that is required to honor that feeling - so that it will naturally recede into the background, until called upon again.
So by remembering these three things - pausing between feeling and acting, noticing when our emotions are speaking softly, and accepting that all of our emotions have a vital message to share - we can stop struggling with our emotions and start to hear their innate wisdom.
This alone will shift our inner emotional dynamic, and it is the key to stepping out of stuck emotional patterns once and for all.