Everyone deals with painful emotions from time to time. You might struggle with anger, envy, fear, or guilt. These emotions might be related to a current experience, or they might be emotions you have struggled with for a very long time. Regardless, it’s possible to engage an emotional healing process on your journey toward wholeness.
Learning the steps of an emotional healing process is vital to growth in emotional health, or what psychologists call emotional intelligence. It doesn’t mean you stop having emotions. In fact, emotions are a beautiful aspect of who you are. But, it will help you experience more calm and clarity inside as you care for your emotional well-being. And, it will benefit your relationships with other people.
If you don’t heal painful emotions, they can fester like an open wound. They might hide away outside of your conscious awareness for a time, but they will wait for a moment of vulnerability and make themselves known. For example, when you don’t engage an emotional healing process, emotions tend to:
- Come out sideways in sarcasm or bitterness toward others
- Overcome you with extreme reactions to minor incidents
- Hijack you unexpectedly with a flood of anger, fear, or loneliness
- Make you feel powerless or hopeless
- Negatively impact your view of yourself
On the other hand, when you heal painful emotions, you experience more freedom inside. Instead of being at the whim of your emotions, you learn how to lead your emotions with care.
Most of us weren’t taught an emotional healing process. As a result, we’re afraid of the power of our emotions, or we don’t know what to do with them. So we deny our experience of pain or put on a mask so that others won’t see what we are really feeling.
I see this in my counseling practice all the time, and I have struggled with it myself. Many women don’t know how to manage loneliness, sorrow, envy, anger, and fear. We get very good at telling ourselves and others that we are always “just fine.” However, at some point, those walled off emotions will erupt if not cared for with compassion.
Instead of burying emotions or numbing them, you can learn how to understand and care for them by engaging an emotional healing process. You can heal painful emotions and learn to make emotions your allies. For example, loneliness can become a cue for you to cultivate connection with others. Sorrow can help you slow down and make space for healthy grief. Healed anger is a helpful warning that you may need to set some boundaries. And, fear, when tended well, can help you stay humble and connected in healthy ways to others and God.
The secret to an emotional healing process is to pay attention to your emotions with compassion—not shove them aside. Here are some ways to begin that process.
3 Steps of an Emotional Healing Process
1.) Become aware of the emotion.
It may sound counter-intuitive, but it works. Becoming aware of an emotion helps you name it for what it is. As you name the emotion, you gain distance from it, a process psychologists call differentiation. Here are some examples of how to take this step:
- Take a few minutes to notice what you are thinking about.
- Write down some of those thoughts or simply become aware of them.
- What emotions are connected to those thoughts?
- Name the emotion or emotions as best you can.
- Write down a brief sentence to describe the feeling.
Becoming more aware of what you think and feel is a skill you can practice each day. Simply acknowledging the fact of what you feel—”I feel angry” or “I feel sad”—soothes the brain’s limbic system and helps you gain access to other regions of the brain. (For more on how the brain works with emotions, check out the work of Curt Thompson and Dan Siegel).
2.) Get curious about the emotion.
Once you have become aware of a strong or painful feeling, get curious about it. Ask yourself questions like:
- Where do I feel this emotion in my body?
- If it was an image, what would it look like?
- How familiar is it to me?
- Has it been with me for a long time?
- Is there an early memory of when this emotion first showed up?
- Can I extend compassion toward this emotion?
As you get curious about your emotions, you’re moving into a position of self-acceptance and compassion. Instead of judging yourself for having the emotion, you accept it for what it is and decide to learn more about it. Criticizing yourself or beating yourself up doesn’t help you in the emotional healing process—in fact, it heightens the tension and turmoil you feel inside!
3.) Invite God to draw near.
We are emotional, thinking, and spiritual beings. You can access the tremendous spiritual resources at your disposal by inviting God to draw near you in your experience of pain, fear, or anger. For example, you might ask yourself:
- What is it like to invite God into the experience of this emotion?
- Do you notice any fears about inviting God into its experience?
- Can you express any fears or reservations honestly to him?
Notice what you sense without judgment. God can handle your honesty. It might not magically take the feeling away, but acknowledging your emotions honestly before yourself and before God helps you gain perspective.
Becoming aware of emotions and getting curious about them helps you begin the emotional healing process. Inviting God into that experience magnifies the power. Working through this step-by-step process brings a deep-down, grounded sense of calm, confidence, and clarity. You’ll learn that you can face your emotions with compassion. And as you do, you’ll discover that you can lead your emotions, not the other way around.
As you practice following these three steps you’ll learn to calm yourself when overtaken by a painful or troubling emotion. You can then move into unburdening painful memories associated with emotions and integrating those emotions back into your life in healthy ways. You’ll gain compassion for yourself and learn how to respond intentionally to a difficult situation. You’ll learn how to advocate effectively on behalf of yourself and others, without doing harm. Your emotions will become your allies.
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