In this entry, I share emotional intelligence techniques used to self-manage and move emotions through your body and reframe a reaction (i.e. the meaning you attach to the emotion) and also share my insights around what emotions are.
The last two weeks have been roller coaster of emotions.
Firstly, one of my mother’s best friends, Marylin, a woman who in my teens & early adulthood played the part of a second mother, & later a friend, passed away suddenly. The reason I think I felt her passing so acutely was not only because she was a rocking woman, but also because it was a week before the 2-year anniversary of my father’s – also sudden – passing. I was consumed by various emotions, ranging from anger, sadness, empathy for her children, concern about my mother and her loss, and anger and sorrow around my father’s death too. It seemed to transport me back to the day I received the call about my dad – the shock, the scream that escaped my throat and how my knees gave way. I was sad, but more than anything, I was so angry that both of them had been taken away from their children, my mother, the community and everyone else who loved them. I felt that neither of them had finished doing what they came here to do. (This is the story I attached to the sensations and this affected the way I interpreted my thoughts about the feelings I was experiencing).
Marylin was such a happy, loving, fun and incredibly giving person. (See the image of her dancing with my mom on the table at my mom’s 60th).
My dad was passionate (also on the table), totally in awe with life and, like Marylin, really sucked the marrow out of every experience. Both had such a strong life force that literally sustained and invigorated those around them. It radiated from their being.
On Friday last week, I was packing the dishwasher and was overcome with such intense sadness and anger after reading Facebook posts around Marylin’s passing. I had to hold myself up and I wept so much I felt bruised. Questions like “Why?” and statements like “It is not fair” came flooding in. However, life has taught me how to better be with and manage such emotions, which are experienced as a severe pain/sensation. I was at home alone and so I did not need to “manage” myself too much in that I could sense and acknowledge the feelings and allow them to be felt authentically. (Tips on how to authentically express and self-manage emotions will be covered later).
On Wednesday this week (day before my dad’s anniversary & day of Marylin’s memorial), I called one of my oldest and best friends, Sonia, to see how the memorial was and how everyone was doing. It dawned on me as she was talking, that one day, either she or I would have to experience this loss in terms of each other. After she gave me an update of how everyone was, she asked me how I was holding up.
It’s funny how sometimes a voice of your mom or best friend strips away your defences and leaves your vulnerable and exposed.
I choked up and a wave of pain (which when attached to the meaning I gave this sensation would be complete sorrow) surged through me – I could barely respond due to the lump in my throat. I was about to give a Nia class, and needed to find a way to self-manage this reaction.
The relevance of the above is to share with you two occasions where I was overcome with emotion, and how due to the nature of the situations, both allowed for different expressions of that sensation. Before I get into the tips, I want to make it crystal clear, that had I not been able to ‘self-manage” it would not have been the end of the world – as there is no shame in feeling or self-expression of vulnerability. I am all about feeling the chemistry of authentic living – and that is the point: whether you experience joy or sorrow, or anything in-between.
These feelings are evidence that you are ALIVE. Sobbing your eyes out is a different sensation to beaming with joy – but they both make you feel alive – as if your senses are sharper than normal. We are human. It is natural to have emotions. However, emotions – despite all being valid – are subjective and do not define who we are.
We express them as if they are who we are, e.g. “I am so happy” instead of describing the sensation of being filled with a sensation of joy. Feelings are not who we are. They come and go and we experience a myriad of feelings within a day, constantly shifting. Emotions are really (in my opinion) sensations/feelings we experience which we give meaning to based on the stories we internalise. Our emotions only became part of our actual DNA when we allow them to get stuck and they then literally become part of our internal hardwiring and are embedded into our cellular memory. So, how do you give your sensations the respect they deserve by being with them as well as ensuring they do not get stuck?
In the first example, I allowed myself to acknowledge the sensations and for my body to express them. As soon as I noticed the story I started telling myself: “It’s so unfair!” and “Why?”,I stopped the story in its tracks. I focused fully on the physical sensation (we would often say, “it feels as if my heart is breaking” to describe it) and cried until the feeling had moved through me and my body stopped sobbing. In the second example, I had a Nia class. It is a space where I can be fully myself, and I am the teacher, so do believe in “being what I say”. I walked into class, told my clients I was in a sensitive space and might cry during class, and was offered hugs and kisses. I then located the sensation in myself and decided that would tell a different story to transform, yet still acknowledge the feeling. I would dance that evening to honour Marylin and my father. I would dance to honour the gift of life, love and community. If my body decided to weep, it would be tears of gratitude and joy for the gift of their lives.
Feeling authentically and expression:
- Notice the sensation.
- Acknowledge it.
- Name it if you feel the space is safe enough for self-exposure (quietly or out loud – I named mine both when home alone and when at Nia class)
- Allow it to move through you and be experienced without going into story or reframe the story. (the story/thoughts affects the wiring of your brain due to the links you are making with that sensation and that story)
This act of accepting what really is, (and not your opinion about what it means) allows the emotions to move through. Note: If you are feeling “negative emotions” and have the need to express them, write them down. Tell the story that is on repeat in your head. Once you have it in front of you, you should feel better for expressing your emotions. You can then look at what you wrote and you will notice that a lot of what you are “feeling” (the story and opinions) are only partially true and normally stem from fear/sense of abandonment/betrayal/search for meaning/etc. This will also allow you to short-circuit the negative thinking in your mind as it has now been articulated and the emotional charge removed. Chances are that if the emotional charge is kept active it will become part of who you are.
Life can be hard. The trick is to not let the harshness dull your light or your capacity to live fully. We need the contrast to learn and to be kept awake to reality. If I became angry and jaded it would in no way honour the lives of those who have left (and who celebrated and loved life) or the present gift of your existence. It is all about perspective. Sure, we can choose to be scared to death based on the pain living sometimes holds. Alternatively, we can transform it into being SCARED TO LIFE!