5 Steps to Unpacking Emotions

I finished my book recently and sent it out to a few people to get feedback. The results were interesting because as much as the book captivates its audience (which I take as a huge compliment), some family members were concerned with the idea that I am somewhat wallowing in the aftermath of the traumas. I can see why they think this because the book was part of my processing so it goes through all the events and how they affected many of my relationships, literally telling my story over the last 18 months. The thing is that I finished the book and I’m not there anymore but this whole situation brings about a very valuable point – what is the difference between wallowing and unpacking a negative emotion?

I feel like the Western society actually encourages wallowing and even pushes people to create an identity out of their ‘condition’. Firstly the awkward responses when you tell someone about what you’re going through, then the whole ‘something must be wrong with me‘ feeling, off you trot to the Doctors and before you know it, you’ve got a whole new condition to claim and feed your ego with – and trust me, the ego loves this. Be it PTSD, depression, or something else, it’s a whole new identity to live through and get attention for ‘how bad’ you are. The thing is I’ve been there, I was living this identity for the year after the attack and 6 months after my Dad passed away. Allowing myself to get carried away with emotions then pulling out the ‘you have no idea what I’ve been through’ card. That changed in January of this year when I boarded a plane to Asia, because I made the decision to choose happiness and not wallow in the negativity of these traumas. That said, I’ve realised that in order to be truly happy I’ve had to go into my inner depth and unpack these emotions, attachments and traumas before getting to the ‘I’m getting through it’ stage. It’s really important to make this distinction and I feel like this is where some people get a little confused.

So firstly, let me clear this up – if years after these events I am moping around all day in negativity, getting angry, suffering in silence because things are too difficult to talk about or blaming others for not treating me right (pulling out that ‘you have no idea what I’ve been through’) card. Generally, spiralling around in negative patterns that I keep creating without truly moving forward in my life, then this is wallowing.

If on the other hand I become aware of an emotion as it comes up and I stop, sit with it and ask myself why has this upset me/made me angry/why am I negative today? Then this is the start of unpacking it. I’ve written about this in my emotional intelligence post but let’s truly explore this.

I’m going to be brutal about this: Most negative emotions that are experienced come from traumatic events that haven’t been unpacked fully. If it had been unpacked fully then there wouldn’t be any negative emotion around it because it would have been accepted and dealt with already. What about people who don’t feel like they’ve been through a ‘traumatic’ situation but experience a lot of negative emotions I hear you ask? Well, hardly anyone is trauma free. The majority of us would have experienced minor traumas in our childhood that we haven’t addressed which later manifest in our psyche (such as self-limiting beliefs, depression, anxiety etc) and sometimes in our physical body (Dr Jenn’s PhD was all about this, and so is Louise Hays book: You Can Heal Your Life). I’m sorry if this is the first time you’ve heard that you’re probably traumatised in some way, but hey, you’re reading this post and I’m going to share with you some great info to help you unpack these traumas!

“Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite powers of our light” – Brené Brown

So here’s my advice, from someone who has been there. From someone who has read around various subjects. From someone who has received some amazing support from psychologists, counsellors, acupuncturists, NLP practitioners and a variety of other therapists in the whole spectrum in mind body and spirit therapy:

1. Meditate. Neurologically speaking, meditation connects the emotional and logical parts of your brain, so rather than getting carried away with your emotions you actually become an observer of them. So instead of spiralling into depression you can literally stop yourself and say ‘hmm, I have some sadness today’

2. Explore inwards. When an emotion comes up, acknowledge it, accept it and explore it to find out why it’s coming up and where it’s from. It could even be from a seemingly insignificant even in your childhood that you didn’t realise bothered you, or a recent event that wasn’t fully dealt with.

3. Help yourself. Work to unpack every trigger, every self-limiting belief and seek the help you feel is right for you. If that’s acupuncture then go get it. Beating up a pillow in your room? Do it. Counselling? Book it. Everyone needs help now and then, whether it’s to talk something through with a friend or booking to see a professional, don’t stop yourself from getting what you need because of societies stigmas.

4. Be compassionate to yourself. Like me, you’re probably a human too and having emotions is perfectly normal – especially negative ones (no matter how much Instagram might try and convince you otherwise)! Even if you have really difficult emotions like guilt and shame come up for how you acted in a certain situation, show yourself compassion and acknowledge that you acted in the best way you could with the tools you had then. Let the emotion come up, then release it with compassion.

5. Listen to yourself. You’re the best guide for you, so tap into your feelings and let them steer you on your path. Even with these 5 steps, if they don’t feel right for you, don’t do them, just explore what does work for you right now and deal with what you can when you’re ready. And if you’re not ready that’s ok too, just listen to your body and follow what feels good for now (even if it’s avoidance through smoking/drinking, that might be your body’s way of distracting you until you are ready, but by meditating daily you can at least acknowledge this for what it is and stop it if it spirals out of control).
Like most things in life, unpacking emotions takes work. It can be uncomfortable at times and it can require persistence to get through the sticky parts but the rewards are worth it, trust me.

Like Brené Brown says:
“Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite powers of our light”
Now with this knowledge wouldn’t you choose happiness too?

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