As children, many of us were given the message that expressing difficult emotions, like sadness, disappointment and shame were signs of weakness. We were encouraged to “suck it up” or were told to “be strong, don’t cry” or even given words of advice that seemed helpful like, “don’t be sad, it’ll be okay”.
So what’s wrong with that, you may be asking? Isn’t it okay to ignore the bad stuff and encourage positivity?
What’s wrong with that is…
When we block out emotion, we teach ourselves to armour up and push our emotions off in destructive ways, ways that not only hurt us and our loved ones in the moment, but can lead to a number of physical and emotional problems.
Destructive ways we block or offload emotional pain:
- Pushing away or denying emotions to avoid dealing with them only to have them come to the surface with an explosion of anger or rage
- Blaming and /or getting angry at others (often with those we are closest to.)
- Numbing with any number of things – food, alcohol, social media scrolling etc.
- Stuffing feelings until the body reacts, resulting in headaches, stomach problems, depression and/or anxiety, hypertension or even more serious health problems.
Do any of these behaviours sound familiar? We come by them honestly…they are learned behaviours. Our parents before us were most likely also taught the virtues of “maintaining a stiff upper lip” and that it wasn’t okay to express sadness, disappointment, or other vulnerable emotions.
While these not so ideals ways of offloading hurt may keep us from dealing with the pain for a while, when we avoid emotions suffering in the form of depression or anxiety can follow. This also builds a distance between our true sense of self.
Also, emotional flooding and pain inevitably resurface, resulting in more emotional suffering than would have surfaced had the feeling not been resisted. Simply put…
Pain X Resistant = continued Suffering*
We all feel pain. It’s what makes us human. Suffering doesn’t have to plague us in the same way.
What we CAN do to alleviate pain and prevent continued suffering is…
Stop resisting it. Notice it. Get curious about it. Be kind to yourself when it surfaces.
Leaning into the emotional difficulty rather than resisting it, can be remembered by using the acronym R.A.I.N.:
Recognize or becoming aware of the feeling
Allow the feeling to set in,
Investigate or get curious about the feeling and situation,
Nourish yourself with self-compassion.
-Tara Brach (2013)
These steps can bring you understanding and peace that allow you to move forward without resentment and continued suffering.
I have recorded a guided meditation; available on my site that walks you through the R.A.I.N. steps. I encourage you to listen, especially if avoiding feelings is commonly practiced and/or was commonly practiced in your family growing up.
If leaning in to emotional pain on your own is difficult, you may want to consider seeking support with a trained therapist who can help guide and hold space for you.
If you connected with this post and would like to speak with me please call 289-686-0903 or contact me here to request an appointment
*Shinzen Young, 1994 – dharma teacher, author of several Buddhist books and tapes.