4 Effective Strategies To Take Control of a Strong Emotion
By Jonice Webb PhD
Last updated: 5 May 2019
~ 4 MIN READ
These are only a few of the feelings that have a special ability to grow very intense, virtually incapacitating you.
Whether you wake up in the morning feeling it, lie awake unable to fall asleep because of it, can’t make a decision due to it, or stay in constant motion to avoid it, any one of these feelings, when intense enough, can temporarily rule your life.
As often as I say that your feelings are your friends, I also must acknowledge that they can become your worst enemies. And many fine people are set up to have this happen to them more than should be. They are set up by growing up in families which ignore or minimize, or simply do not talk about, feelings. I call this common childhood experience Childhood Emotional Neglect.
When you grow up in a family that does not openly address feelings, you do not learn how to manage and use your feelings the way they are meant to be used. As an adult, you will then be prone to becoming either numb or periodically overwhelmed or immobilized by powerful feelings or, as happens for many, both.
Your emotions are built into you for a reason. They are, essentially, your body’s way of talking to you. When you use them the way they are meant to be used, they will inform, direct, guide, motivate, energize and guide you. In performing these many important functions, imagine the level of influence they have.
But this is a powerful force that, unfortunately, when misused, can turn against you. For example, the anger that should be driving you to protect yourself, can get turned toward yourself, and begin to harm you instead. The feeling of loss that should be helping you to let go gets pushed underground and ends up draining you instead. Or the anxiety that’s telling you to prepare ends up causing you to avoid instead. These are only a few of the ways that your emotions can turn against you.
If you find yourself drained, disempowered, held back, or otherwise harmed by a feeling, this means that you are not managing or using that feeling in the way it’s meant to be.
Here are 4 strategies that I have used effectively with many of my clients. Whether your painful problem feeling is a one-time experience or revisits you periodically (or often) throughout your life, these strategies will help. They are tried and true and have proven themselves immensely useful.
4 Effective Coping Strategies For Tolerating Strong Emotions
- Writing:Other than therapists, few people know that the only way to effectively manage and work through emotion is to allow yourself to feel it. In saying that, I’m fully aware that I have delivered you some bad news. However, writing is an amazing way to help yourself sit with a feeling. If you find yourself eaten up by anger or some other strong emotion, grab some paper and a pen — you can type on your laptop but I think there is a more powerful connection between your feelings and your pen than your feelings and computer keys — and write whatever comes to mind. Spew it, cry it, or slop it onto the paper as long or as much as you need. Then put it away and distract yourself by doing something else.
- Sharing:There is something almost magical about sharing a strong emotion with another person. Possessing this magic is one of the great advantages of having a strong emotional bond with a trusted someone in your life, like your spouse or friend. This magic is one of the reasons that therapy and support groups work. Saying, “I’m really sad today,” and, if possible, talking about why you feel it with another person requires you to name what you’re feeling and drag it from your inside to the outside. It works.
- Meditating:Intense feelings have a way of driving your brain. It can almost feel like someone else is in charge of it. It may make your thoughts race or become very negative or disjointed. The beauty of meditation is that it is the exact opposite of all of this. Meditation is essentially the process of taking charge of your brain. If, when you are feeling powerfully bad, instead of trying to escape that feeling you sit down and focus inward, you can take over the driver’s seat and find stillness and peace.
- Processing:This is the granddaddy of all emotion skills. It consists of all of the steps above, combined. It involves sitting with the feeling while sorting out what the feeling is, why you are having it, and what the feeling is telling you. When you write, share, and meditate, you are doing the exact process that your intense feeling needs. When you do this, you not only listen to it, you take charge of it. This is, by far, the best way to take it’s power over you away.
Powerful feelings are not a sign of weakness. They are, in fact, a sign of your humanity and your strength. All you need to do is harness your own inner light, your feeling, and shine it forward in a healthy and useful way.
By writing, you can understand.
By sharing, you can connect.
By meditating, you can take control of yourself.
By processing, you can harness your own power, and use it to direct, energize and guide you. And by doing this, you are honoring your deepest self in a way that you may never have been honored as a child, growing up in your emotionally neglectful family.
Childhood Emotional Neglect can be subtle and unmemorable so it can be hard to know if you grew up with it. To find out, Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.
To learn much more about feelings, how they work, and how to access and use yours, see the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.