When dealing with a tangible problem, it is very good to take a step back and often we need to gain distance to gain perspective (More on this in “Running into Problems”). However, when it comes to emotional problems and difficult emotions, shying away from them doesn’t generally lead towards resolution. Yet, that seems to be our preferred strategy.
Fear is a good example. Most of us avoid anything that elicits fear. And from an evolutionary standpoint, that’s understandable. We should avoid what threatens our life. But in today’s world, we don’t deal with life threatening situations on a daily basis. Still, our brain treats anything that triggers discomfort as if it were a hungry tiger.
Funnily, you don’t get rid of bad emotions by ignoring them. You can only resolve them by walking through them, and anyone who has done so and survived it can confirm that. The problem is, we usually don’t go through the bad emotions that are hovering over us. We do our utmost to avoid experiencing them. When we cannot avoid them any longer, we take only a tiny step into them - or maybe not even into, but just toward them, get overwhelmed by the discomfort, and retreat. This reluctant approach means that we continue staring at this wall of discomforting emotions and have to experience the accompanying dread, sometimes indefinitely.
What we need to do is to take a courageous step into the dreaded emotions, sit down in them, not try to escape and allow the experience to happen: physically feel the emotions. Depending on the level of dread, you might want to make sure that you do this when you feel safe, when you are in a place that makes you feel safe and good, or maybe even have a person by your side who you trust and that you know will not let you get lost in the emotions.
Once you have taken a seat in the dreaded emotion and allowed yourself to experience it, you might realise that even within the fear, sadness, rage, you are still able to function. You are still breathing, you can still move, you can get up and walk around. You might choose to stay with your emotions and explore them a bit more, or you might choose to move forward, through them and out of them. You’ll be surprised how short the way through them actually is!
After we overcome the dread, we realise that we have (easy) access to the place where discomforting emotions reside. We learn, that we can revisit the place, should the need arise. Emotions like fear, sadness, and rage lose the additional dread that was previously attached to them. They are just a place that we know how to move through, not something a threatening cloud that follows us around indefinitely.
Read about my experience on what might be possible when we look at past experiences without avoidance, shame, or fear in "How to Carry Your Burden".