Healing Difficult Emotions, Lists About Important and Silly Stuff, Overcoming Self-loathing and Anxiety, Self-compassion, Self-Love and Self-Directed Kindness

Five Things You Can Do When You Get Stuck in Painful Emotions

The purpose of my blog is to help people practice kindness, compassion, and respect to live more resilient lives.[1] One of the ways we show ourselves kindness, compassion, and respect is by developing practices that help us cope with painful emotions.

Sometimes painful emotions are severe enough that we need to seek help from a professional.[2]

Frequently, however, we have painful emotions that do not require outside help, but we still need a way to navigate them. Otherwise, we feel like we are being sucked into the Bog of Suffering. You know—that bog we get stuck in when we are thrashing around in our pain, wearing ourselves out, and getting nowhere fast.

In case you are stuck in the Bog of Suffering, which we all get stuck in sometimes, here are some strategies you can use to cope with your suffering and strengthen you to climb out of the bog when you are ready.

One: Think of painful emotions as temporary visitors.

Please know that suffering painful emotions does not mean you are a failure. You are not required to feel happy. You are not required to “Just get over” your painful emotions. You are not required to “Just be grateful” or to “Fake it until you make it.”

Consider welcoming your painful emotions as temporary visitors. This poem by Rumi helps us imagine our emotions this way:

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jalaluddin Rumi, translation by Coleman Barks (The Essential Rumi)

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Two: Use an Intrinsic Worth Meditation

You may have painful feelings today because you feel like you are not worthy. You may feel like  you don’t look the right way, weigh the right amount, make the right amount of money, drive the right car, or that you fail to meet some other standard.

When we feel unworthy because we think we fail to meet standards like this, we are stuck in an extrinsic view of worthiness. This is a false view of worthiness frequently promoted by the media and other confused people around us. You can read more about this false view of worthiness  here.

The truth is that you have intrinsic worthiness right now that is based on your own unique goodness. You can read more about this here. You can also read more about developing your sense of intrinsic worth here.

Your unique beauty, body, intelligence, and talents are amazing and enough. Make a commitment to honor them.

To help you honor your intrinsic goodness, use this Intrinsic Worth Meditation:

Imagine a flower garden with a variety of flowers in it.

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As you imagine this garden, realize that there is no such things as an unworthy flower—all flowers have their own unique goodness. There are only thriving or declining flowers. Flowers thrive when they have appropriate soil, sunlight and water. They decline when they lack these things. Imagine yourself providing soil, sunlight, and water so that all of the flowers in the garden thrive.

Now imagine yourself as one human being in the human garden. Consider that there are no unworthy humans–all humans have unique goodness. There are only thriving or declining humans. Humans thrive when they have respect, kindness, and compassion. They decline when they lack these things. Imagine yourself providing kindness, compassion, and respect to yourself so that you can thrive. You can finish your meditation by repeating these lines to yourself silently or out loud:

I have have my own unique goodness.

I am willing to treat myself with kindness and respect.

I am willing to treat myself with compassion.

Three: Do loving-kindness meditation.

When we show ourselves and others compassion, we create a safe space in which we can weather the storms of life.

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Here is a loving-kindness meditation you can use to practice showing yourself compassion:

Sit on the floor, a chair, or a bed in a quiet place. You can also lie down if it feels more comfortable. If it feels good, place your hand on your heart. Breathe slowly and deeply in and out five to ten times to quiet your mind and heart. Keep breathing deeply, and then repeat these lines to yourself silently our out loud:

May I be free from inner and outer harm and danger. May I be safe and protected.

May I be free of mental suffering or distress.

May I be happy.

May I be free of physical pain and suffering.

May I be healthy and strong.

May I be able to live in this world happily, peacefully, joyfully, with ease

Four: Do an “Assigning Penance Imagination”.

Sometimes we have painful feelings because people have been cruel to us. If you have painful feelings because of this, you might try “Assigning Penance Imagination.”

To do this, imagine a just penance you could assign to the person who hurt you. For example, I was once on the receiving end of sexist comments from an acquaintance who demeaned me for expressing an emotional concern. At the time, I felt ashamed and embarrassed of my femininity and struggled with these feelings for a long time afterwards.

One day I decided to try Assigning Penance Imagination to help deal with my emotions.[3]

In my imagination, I made the sexist guy wear a pink pussycat hat and volunteer for a feminist non-profit organization. I imagined him standing in a booth for this non-profit, wearing his pink pussycat hat, and handing out feminist literature to all passers-by. That was his penance.

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This Assigning Penance Imagination not only made me laugh while imagining it, it also greatly lessened my feelings of shame and embarrassment–probably because it helped me regain some of my power over the situation.

Our imagination is powerful. Think about how badly you can scare yourself by imagining terrifying scenarios. We often use our imagination to scare ourselves, but we can also use our imagination to heal painful emotions.

So, if you have painful emotions because someone treated you badly, consider thinking up a penance that makes them “work off” or rectify their bad behavior. I recommend imagining a just penance (like the sexist guy handing out feminist literature) rather than imagining horrible things happening to your wrongdoer. The first kind of imagination is based in justice and reconciliation, which is always healing. The second kind of imagination is based in rage, violence, and revenge, which usually only causes more suffering.

Five: If your painful feelings are not too overwhelming, and you are comfortable with naturopathic techniques, try a medically documented naturopathic technique called EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) or Tapping.  

EFT or Tapping (I will refer to it henceforth as Tapping) is a self-acupressure technique in which you use finger tapping and repeated affirmations to decrease the intensity of emotional pain. You can read more about Tapping and the medical research behind it here.

Tapping can be done in a variety of ways, but here is one common way people do it:

1. Sit or lie down in a comfortable and private spot. Bring a piece of paper and a writing utensil with you. You might want to use it after your Tapping session.

2. Concentrate on the painful emotion or emotions your are experiencing. Identify the most dominant painful emotion. You can work with the other ones later, but Tapping works best when you focus on one emotion at a time.

3. Name the powerful emotion you feel. You can think or say out loud, “I feel ______.” Fill in the blank with the emotion you have. Perhaps it is fear or anxiety or self-loathing or rage or jealousy or hopelessness.

4. Try to identify where you feel your emotion. Is it in your stomach? Your chest? Your throat? If you are not sure where you are feeling your feeling, that’s okay. Don’t worry about this step.

5. To prepare for Tapping, tap the karate chop part of one hand with the pointer and middle finger of your other hand. Just tap it lightly for thirty seconds or so and mentally rate the strength of your emotion on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being very weak and 10 being strong.

6. Once you have determined the intensity level of your emotion, you can remember it or write it on your paper you have nearby.

7. Now you are ready to begin tapping. Use your pointer and middle finger together again and tap lightly on each of the points you see in the picture below: the top of your head; above your eye; to the side of your eye; below your eye; below your nose, below your lips; on you collar bone; below your armpit.

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The red dots above signify tapping points.

You can tap repeatedly on one side of your body, or you can switch back and forth between the left and right side of your body after each round of tapping. (Some people prefer switching back and forth between sides of the body to avoid arm fatigue.)

8. Each time you tap, say this affirmation to yourself or out loud, “Even though I feel _______, I am willing to accept myself.” Fill in the blank with the name of the painful emotion you identified in #3. For instance, if you feel hopeless, you could say, “Even though I feel hopeless, I am willing to accept myself.” I will call this affirmation the Tapping Affirmation.

Say the Tapping Affirmation to yourself each time you tap on one of the tapping points. For instance, tap on the crown of your head and say the Tapping Affirmation. Then tap on top of your eye and say the Tapping Affirmation. Then tap at the side of your eye and say the Tapping Affirmation. Keep going.

Remember to breathe while you are tapping. By the way, you probably need to tap about seven to ten times or more on each point so that you can say the whole Tapping Affirmation while you are tapping.

9. Once you have tapped through all the pressure points repeating the Tapping Affirmation, check the intensity of your feelings. You can do this by checking the part of your body where you originally felt the emotion or just by noticing whether your painful feelings have subsided a little. Has the intensity of your feelings decreased at all? Such as from a 9 to an 8? Don’t worry if it hasn’t. Just check in with yourself.

10. Go through the tapping cycle again. Tap on each tapping point and repeat the Tapping Affirmation. After several rounds of tapping on all the pressure points, some people also find it helpful while they are tapping to talk to themselves (in their mind or out loud) about why they are feeling their painful emotion. For instance, if someone is feeling self-loathing, they might keep tapping and talk through (silently or out loud) why they feel self-loathing.

You can continue tapping as long or as short of a time as you want to, periodically checking in to see how intense your emotion is on a scale of 1 to 10. There is no right length of time for tapping.

Some people feel immediate emotional relief after four or five rounds of tapping. Some people need a longer time to do the tapping process—twenty minutes or more. Some people don’t feel emotional relief from Tapping until the next day.

Sometimes people have significant insights while Tapping, and it helps to journal about these insights afterwards. Consider writing about your Tapping insights if you think it would help.

Regarding my own experience with Tapping, I was very skeptical of the technique when I initially heard about it, but I thought it couldn’t hurt to try it. I tried it a couple of times and had mild improvement in my emotions. I kept practicing the technique, and now I frequently I experience profound improvement in my painful emotions when I tap, although I usually don’t feel them until the next day.

Final Note

We all experience painful emotions sometimes, and we need tools and strategies to work with them. I hope you find some of these strategies helpful, Friend.

I wish you peace and freedom from suffering.

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If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing on social media.

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[1]Resilience is our ability to pursue our potential, to engage confidently in the growth process, to welcome challenge and adversity, and to flourish in all areas of our life. (Johnson and Cook, 2019)

[2] There is no shame in seeking professional help for painful emotions. We should encourage regular check-ups with therapists and counselors, just like we encourage regularly checkups with doctors. Getting emotional check-ups on a regular basis helps us deal with emotional pain and trauma before it becomes a more severe problem. In addition, please know that if you have trauma in your life from violence or abuse, or if you struggle with chronic and persistent depression and anxiety, you are not to be blamed for these painful emotions, and you are not meant to shoulder it alone. You are not weak for needing help.

[3] I originally read about this imagination activity from Louise Hay. I apologize that I no longer have the original link in which I read about it.

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References

Johnson, Shelly and Cook, Carrie (2019). Resilience is the #1 Skill. Georgetown College.

7 thoughts on “Five Things You Can Do When You Get Stuck in Painful Emotions”

    1. Yay! I am so glad it helped you. I’ll tell you what: I have been creating and using a lot of imagination exercises like the “Assigning Penance Imagination.” They help me so much! I am going to write about a few more of them soon.

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