How to use your difficult emotions to improve your life

Today I thought we'd talk about emotions, specifically, how to tackle those really tricky ones that we don't like to feel. As people-pleasers, over-givers and over-functioners, we tend to play the role of 'the strong one' and can be pretty rubbish at paying attention to our own needs and emotions.

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We pride ourselves on being the peacemaker, not rocking the boat and keeping those around us happy. We value harmony and avoid conflict and confrontation at all cost, stuffing down our thoughts and feelings for the greater good... that is until we feel burnt out, taken for granted, taken advantage of or unappreciated!

I get it. I've been there too. I can be incredibly tolerant (too tolerant at times), but whether we like to admit it, we all have limits and continually crossing them begins to take its toll on our emotional, mental and physical well-being.

This is why it's really important to connect with our inner world and pay attention to the signals it gives us. This information is a crucial part of becoming responsibly selfish and living a more joyful and balanced life.


Understanding our difficult emotions

Is there anything more important to us than the way we feel? In my experience, it's almost never about the things we think we want, it's about the feeling we think the things will help us create.

Whilst my clients may come to me telling me they want a promotion, to start their own business, to improve their relationship, to stop people-pleasing, to build better work-life balance, to improve their confidence etc, ultimately they all simply want to feel better in some way - happier, loved, seen, heard, validated, secure, peaceful, empowered, free, etc. 

We covet the emotions we perceive as good and go to great lengths not to experience or express the emotions we perceive as bad; but what if we stopped polarising our emotions as good or bad and instead started to view them as useful and valid information about our experience?

Our uncomfortable emotions are often signposting us towards the changes we need to make in our life, relationships and career, so learning to tap into these emotions and get curious about them (instead of stuffing them down) is the key to changing our lives.


Our unhelpful coping mechanisms

So many of us use various shades of avoidance and escapism to cope with challenging feelings and situations. These behaviours become problematic when we become too reliant on them because they keep us small and stuck, and contribute to our low mood and anxious feelings.

When we avoid or move away from difficult or scary things, it can reduce our anxiety and make us feel better (at least momentarily) - so it makes complete sense that many of us turn to these behaviours when we are feeling bad.

However, we can't always trust our anxious feelings because they are usually strongest when we are on the edge of our comfort zone, starting to stretch ourselves by doing something new or different. In these instances, the hard truth is that we need to feel the fear and do it anyway, rather than allowing it to stop or sabotage us.

Another way we may deal with difficult emotions is to deny or downplay them. We tell people it's all ok or it's not that bad but inside the pain or injustice continues to bubble and fester. If these feelings are left to build, they can turn into resentment and eventually erupt like a volcano spewing lava and rock everywhere! Nothing erodes relationships like resentment. If we don't pay attention, our buried feelings will build up slowly over time and can have catastrophic effects on our life, career and relationships.

You feel your thoughts

Research shows that the average human has over 6,000 thoughts per day. Our thoughts seemingly pop into our heads, and some pop out as quickly as they come. However, others hang around longer and get stuck on repeat. But why?

Often it's to do with the story or meaning we give to that thought. When we give a thought meaning it evokes a feeling, which then creates a behaviour. This behaviour ultimately shapes the outcome we get and feeds into our beliefs and how we view the world around us.

This is how you can have two people that share the same experience and yet have completely different reactions to it. Because our feelings aren't controlled by the actual event but rather our interpretation of that event - the meaning we choose to give it.

The key point here is that our thoughts and feelings do not just happen to us, we create them, albeit unconsciously, by what we focus our attention on.

When we are feeling big emotions we are often focusing on the things that are happening outside of us - what the other person said or did, or didn't say or do and events that we are usually powerless to control. This results in us feeling incredibly frustrated, angry, disempowered, vulnerable, anxious, out of control and stuck. 

We can rarely control things outside of ourselves, but we can, to some degree, control how we experience those things and ensure that the emotions we are feeling are proportionate and appropriate.

I'm not saying this is easy - it can be difficult to see your own 'stuff'. This is why it really helps to have a non-biased person hold up a mirror and gently challenge and reframe our thinking, such as a coach or therapist.


How to use your feelings to make your life better

Here is a process to help you use how you feel to make positive changes in your life and career:

1. Notice the sensations in your body

Start to check in with yourself 2-3 times per day by asking "how am I feeling right now, in this moment?." Scan your body, starting at the top of your head and slowly working your way down to your toes. Notice any sensations such as tension, tightness, crunchiness, aches and pains etc. Are you hungry? Thirsty? Cold, Hot or just right?

2. Identify your thoughts and emotions

Using the feelings wheel to make a list of the strongest five to 10 emotions you are feeling at this moment. Next to each emotion that you've written down, write the word. 'because' and then fill in the blank e.g. "I feel lonely because I've not spent any quality time with my partner". How are these thoughts and emotions linked to the sensations in your body?

3. Clarify the underlying needs or desires

This is the tricky part for those of us that struggle with people-pleasing tendencies and over-functioning - often we're so used to serving others that we've become totally disconnected from our own wants and needs. If you are struggling to identify. your needs, here are some examples of needs to help you to get started (this list is not exhaustive or definitive, it is simply some food for thought). 

4. Get clear about what changes you desire

Remember you can't control others, only yourself. When we focus on trying to change or control things outside of ourselves, this just compounds our difficult emotions. The key to feeling empowered is to focus on what you can control:

  • your thinking (how you look at things)
  • your communication (how you are expressing yourself)
  • your behaviour (how you are acting and conducting yourself

This may mean challenging your perspective and any assumptions you're making, changing how you communicate with others (or yourself) or changing your behaviour to get what you want.

Often when we work on changing our part of a situation, the situation naturally begins to change.

"To change the world, you must first begin with yourself." - Mahatma Gandhi

5. Take action to feel better

If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always got. So this is your invitation to try something new.

If you ignore your difficult emotions, they will intensify. Learn to appreciate the message rather than making your feelings wrong, numbing or rejecting them.

I would love to know if this article resonates with you - drop me a message and let me know (I read and reply to all of my emails personally). If you enjoyed this article and would like to receive similar articles directly to your inbox, you can sign up here.

Life Coach Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Braintree, Essex, CM7 9DB
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Written by Amy Metson, MAC, ICF ACSTH, ADCT - Life, Career & Wellbeing Coach
Braintree, Essex, CM7 9DB

Amy specialises in empowering people with the tendency to people-please, over-give and over-function to become 'responsibly selfish' and create a more joyful and balanced life and career. Working with individuals and in organisations, her 1:1 coaching programmes focus on building self-awareness and a more solid foundation for emotional wellbeing.

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