I have come across more and more people experiencing great difficulty with some problematic emotions in my coaching practice lately – more so than ever before. This inspired me to share some misconceptions that many of us have about these experiences that we call emotions or feelings. The first misconception is that we often believe that emotions or feelings are generated outside of ourselves.
On the surface, this looks utterly plausible because there is an event that happens outside of us, and as a result, we start experiencing sensations in our body. Sometimes the sensations are pleasant, and sometimes these sensations are painful. We tend to call them emotions or feelings. In order to get a deeper understanding of what is really going on, we need to delve a little bit into our own physiology.
What is an emotion?
Emotion is nothing more than an experience of the different kinds of chemicals that we produce in our own body to manifest a particular sensation. Emotions are, therefore, entirely generated by ourselves and our bodies.
The question is, what causes our body to produce the sensations? The obvious response to this would be that it is what’s happening “outside of us.” If that were true, then all of us would have exactly the same response to any single event. In other words, if we all were to smell the same perfume, our response to that perfume should be the same. This is, however, not the case. Three people can go out and smell the exact same scent at the exact same time. We can have three completely different responses ranging from one person being utterly disgusted, and another person loving the fragrance completely.
Scientists will call this a subjective experience, but what is really happening? The minute that you smell the smell, it immediately starts triggering some thoughts in your brain. In the same way as when you walked into your grandmother’s house and were instantly transported back in time, usually to some delightful childhood experiences. How is that possible, and what exactly is happening? The minute that you perceive something from the external world, for instance, the smells from your grandmother’s house, that external stimulus starts triggering all sorts of thoughts and memories about previous experience. The next moment you find yourself in an emotional state which reflects that old experience.
How is this understanding useful when it comes to challenging emotions? Once you realise that when you look at something outside yourself, and you have the experience, then that experience is nothing more than the reflection of previous experiences and has very little to do with what is actually going on around you in the moment.
Three components allow you to experience an emotion; they are your focus, your story, and your physiology.
All of these aspects work together to produce the sensation that we call emotion, and if you change any one of these three aspects, then you are unable to maintain that particular emotion.
The first aspect is physiology; for you to feel any emotion, you need to have the physiology that produces that emotion. Physiology is all about the position that your body is in. Components of your physiology that are most important are your breathing, posture, and eye position.
As far as your breath is concerned, the deeper and slower that you breathe, the calmer you will become. Also, the more shallow and faster you breathe, the more activated you’ll become. That means that if you feel that you are over-activated, say that you are feeling and emotion such as anxiety, all that you need to do is to start breathing deeper and slower. You will usually feel the tension beginning to subside pretty quickly. This is why many people suggest that you breathe into a paper bag when you point and start a panic attack.
As far as your posture is concerned, the more contracted is and hunched over your posture becomes the more of negative emotion you will be able to experience. Many negative emotions will subside very quickly just by you taking on a more upright open posture.
Lastly, for most negative emotions, you will need to have an eye position that looks down. In fact, for the average person, it is almost impossible to feel the negative emotion while looking upwards.
Your Belief or Story
Your belief or story is the meaning that you create from whatever you are observing and your external world. These beliefs, such as “I am too old,”” I am too young,”” I’m not deserving,” or “I am not enough,” and there are many more of these beliefs. They stop you from playing a hundred percent in, and so by thinking these thoughts, you don’t take the kind of action that will give you the results that you are really looking for. They become a self-fulfilling prophecy, but the truth is that by far the most cases, these beliefs aren’t really relevant to you anymore, and they don’t serve you.
The way that we evaluate the world is by continually asking ourselves questions. The quality of these questions will determine the quality of the emotion that we experience. An important thing to understand about the brain is that in many respects, the brain is a lot like a Google search engine. That means it will come up with an answer that relates to the question or, as in Google, the quality of the search content. If you were to ask questions like, “why is this happening to me?” Your mind will go and find all sorts of reasons why any adverse events should be occurring in your life. Usually, it will come up with a reason that relates to something that is wrong with you or that you are defective in some way. These answers typically go with some really negative emotions. Alternatively, if you were to ask more quality questions such as “what can I learn from this?” “How can I get a different result?” “How can I grow from this?” These questions and will deliver a much better quality of thinking and so much better quality of emotion. The next time when you find yourself feeling slightly overwhelmed or challenged by a situation, try asking a different question, and you are very likely to get a much better quality answer.
If you find that you are struggling with heavy or challenging emotions in any area of your life good start would be just to change any one of these areas and the emotional changes well. By far, the easiest way to change emotion is only to improve your physiology. In most cases, that just means get up and do something that you enjoy, or even just by taking a deep breath and stretching, you can change these emotions quite easily.
My challenge to you this week is to notice when you have any challenging emotions, what is the belief, what are you focusing on, and what is your posture like?
The objective is not to never feel the negative emotion because negative emotions are inevitable, and life is going to happen. The challenge is to not get stuck in the negative emotion and get yourself back in a resourceful state.
These emotions can be quite challenging at times, and if you do have one that is a little too stubborn for you to handle on your own, then make contact so that we can deal with those deeper patterns and resolve them quickly and painlessly.
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Looking forward to meeting with you and serving your purpose!