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Welcoming Unpleasant Feelings

Sep 20th 2021

Welcoming Unpleasant Feelings

Most of us spend a lot of energy avoiding uncomfortable feelings. Why on earth should we welcome them?

Well, for one thing, suppressing anger, guilt, envy, fear, shame, grief and other painful feelings doesn’t really work; the more we try to numb them, the more demanding they become, draining our energy and creating tension, stress and dis-ease!

Another reason for welcoming feelings is that they convey information that’s helpful to hear and digest.

Finally, the strategies we devise for suppressing them—our various addictions to food, drink, exercise, overwork, shopping, TV-watching, internet surfing, or just getting into our heads and losing touch with our body and senses—create additional problems.

So how can we welcome our various feeling “guests,” even the unpleasant ones?

Psychologist Abby Seixas, who recommends “befriending feelings,” says: “Befriending a feeling means neither indulging nor repressing, nor trying to manipulate it in any way.” Rather she recommends the following steps:

1) Pause and take some deep breaths, allowing your awareness to move inwards.

2) Ask yourself, “What am I feeling?” and choose whichever feeling is predominant.

Example: Shame

3) With an attitude of curiosity and nonjudgmental awareness, notice what thoughts accompany this feeling; what is its “storyline?”

Example: “I am incompetent.” “I feel exposed.” “I am a hot mess.” “I always screw things up.”

4) How do you experience the feeling in your body?

Example: A clenching feeling in the gut. A tinge of nausea. A tightening and shrinking feeling in my head, arms, and front torso. Pulling up out of myself to “rise above and carry on.”

5) Staying with these sensations, breathe with the feeling. Give it space. And notice what happens. Does the feeling intensify? Dissipate? Stay the same?

Example: Becomes less intense. I feel more space around the feeling.

6) Let a sentence, gesture or image arise that expresses the attitude of befriending the feeling.

Example: “I feel shame, and it’s OK.” Patting my shoulder.

You might also ask yourself, “What do I need here?”

Example: Reassurance. “It’s OK to be imperfect.” “Being imperfect doesn’t mean I’m defective.” “I’m OK.” Breathing. “I’m OK.” Image of a cat quickly regaining its dignity after a clumsy fall.

Once a feeling has been fully experienced, constructive ideas about action(s) to address the situation that gave rise to the feeling may arise. But avoid thinking about taking action before a feeling is fully “digested,” and a sense of equanimity has been regained.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

Some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows

Who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture

Still treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice

Meet them all at the door laughing

And invite them in.

—Rumi, 13th Century Persian Poet and Sufi Mystic

References:

Seixas A. Finding the Deep River Within: A Woman’s Guide to Recovering Balance and Meaning in Everyday Life. (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Boss, 2006), Chapter Six: Befriending Feelings, pp. 89-107.

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Information contained in NewsClips articles should not be construed as personal medical advice or instruction. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.