Say hello to your hard feelings
Negative feelings, if not cleared or handled on time, can entrench themselves deeply in our subconscious, hampering our day-to-day living. Navni Chawla explores ways to address them and then release them from our lives.
Have you ever felt your throat choking with pent-up emotions that you could not express to anyone? Have you ever felt like crying your heart out when it is brimming with sadness? Have you ever felt so angry that you wanted to throw things around and burn some curtains? Have you felt deep shame and humiliation in a certain situation that made you feel helpless too? Have you ever struggled with gnawing guilt, making you want to never see your face in the mirror again? Have you ever felt a crippling fear of thoughts which seem so real that all you wish to do is wrap yourself in a thick cosy blanket, imagining how safe it was in your mother’s womb? Do you feel at times that the world gets to you and is harsh?
Well, I do.
There have been so many instances where I have felt that I am on an emotional roller coaster, with my mind in a frenzied overdrive. The troubling feelings would bubble up to the surface from the depths of my unresolved and knotted subconscious. While watching a movie scene where a girl did not feel wanted by her mother, I sobbed for hours with my own abandonment issues coming to the surface. After the birth of my twin siblings, my mother had to devote all her energies and time to looking after them, leaving her with little time for me. Although I realise now that whatever my mother did was purely unintentional and she was not to blame, understanding and forgiveness don’t happen so quickly. They often come after living through an ordeal. And between feeling the stormy emotions and gaining a certain clarity or perspective, one often loses a lot. In that window, I have gone through tremendous pain and crying spells, and have felt lost, hopeless, worthless, helpless, lonely, and disconnected from everything.
Feeling a deep resistance towards the emotions I was experiencing, I did not know what to do with them. I would keep asking myself persistently after such episodes: What do I do? What do I make of these feelings? Why do they come back again and again? Are they telling me something I am not listening to? What is my ultimate lesson? What is the purpose of all this pain? Surely there must be one.
I thought that there must be a way out of feeling stuck in the same emotional spiral that sucked so much energy and life out of me. After the turbulent phase passed, I would get still. Stillness gave me insights: Anger is futile. Jealousy is futile. And so are many other shades of darker emotions. But why do we still give them so much of our energy and time? At times, emotions and feelings may arise without active thoughts. The thoughts birthing these negative feelings are, at times, hidden in deep layers of our subconscious and are dormant. It might also happen that feeling a certain kind of low energy induces a trail of unpleasant thoughts. At times, such is the interconnectedness of thoughts and emotions that it might be difficult to know which one is feeding the other. It can form a vicious cycle as well where a person is constantly falling in those loops of feeling sad for no reason and eventually finding so many reasons for being sad and vice versa.”
Pondering over my own experiences led me to the pursuit of untangling my troubling feelings to give them a shape and form, and, perhaps, also build a relationship with them. I talked to different people who were walking a similar path to gain some perspective.
How to handle negativity
Mrs Durriya T Pardiwala, the headmistress of Swami Samarth English Medium School, Baur, Maval Taluka, shares, “When an unwanted emotion comes up, I just sit quietly and do some self-talk. Earlier, I used to get extremely agitated and lose my self-esteem and confidence in the process. But now, much has changed. Becoming more loving and accepting of my entire self and trying to find an answer to why a thought or emotion is troubling me and not resisting it at all allows me to reach a state of calm and stability.
“It’s okay to not be okay at times; we are humans after all. We do commit errors, but at the end of it, we learn a valuable lesson, become stronger and more resilient in the bargain, and also extend the same acceptance, tolerance, and forgiveness to others, which we have learnt to give to ourselves. I most definitely welcome all my negative, fearful thoughts and emotions, as much of the repressed stuff comes up, ready to be worked upon and healed.”
So, the awareness of what’s going on inside oneself is the first step towards settling and soothing those troubling emotions and thoughts. The same energy, when uplifted, can be very productive and result in the flowering of our being.
Practice makes perfect
However, the process of reaching a place of awareness and stillness to watch one’s thoughts and emotions can be very gradual and require a lot of patience, learning, perseverance, resolve, and practice.
Dr Bijal Maroo, a homeopathic consultant, counsellor, and health psychologist, says, “Befriending my anger is a term which I can only use now after 20 years of relentless work in managing my anger.”
According to Bijal’s father, she had inherited her grand-uncle’s terrible temper. Initially, she felt that her anger provided her with an edge over others. It kept mischief mongers at bay, and none of the boys ever messed with her, while many other girls were soft targets. She wore her fiery temper on her sleeve with great pride. Later, two incidents became wake-up calls, which changed the trajectory of her life. Thus began one of the longest journeys she had ever undertaken in her life.
The first incident involved one of her close friends. He was repeatedly at the receiving end of her spiteful words and atrocious behaviour every time she flew off the handle. In retrospect, she always regretted it and apologised. Though she was always forgiven, she feared that if she kept up with this, her friend would soon disown her. She realised that nobody deserved to be treated shoddily and her poor temper control was an unacceptable excuse. She added, “I found a quick-fix solution to this. I started taking time out whenever I felt my anger raising its ugly head. Thus, any regrettable words or actions were nipped in the bud. It saved me the misery of having to apologise time and again. It also broke the vicious cycle of this repetitive anger followed by an apology, only to fly off into a rage all over again.”
For the first time, she was feeling better. However, this method was easy to implement on the telephone but difficult in person. She knew she needed more than a bandage solution.
The second incident involved her frayed temper, as her compounder repeatedly made mistakes while dispensing the medicines. Bijal soon realised that her compounder was severely sleep-deprived. In Ramadan, the travail of providing single-handedly for five boys and a daily commute of over five hours to and from work left her with just four to five hours of sleep. With such a punishing schedule, she was bound to err.
With Bijal’s newfound empathy, she started helping her compounder with the correct medicine bottles. This win-win arrangement made her proactively search for better solutions to get her work done. In the clinic, her need for perfection made her increasingly irritable with her patients when they failed to follow instructions and, consequently, their health failed to improve.
She says, “However, when I trained for my diploma in counselling and health psychology, I realised that the only person one can ever change is oneself. This was an important lesson. Even though I had my patient’s best intentions at heart, my anger was akin to banging my head against a wall. I was only hurtling towards my own doom, rolling out the red carpet for stress, ulcers, and hypertension.”
So, she firmly decided to give instructions only once or twice and let her patients be responsible for their health thereafter. This was one more step in the direction of proactively managing her anger.
“The longest journey you will ever take is the 18 inches from your head to your heart.”—Andrew Bennett.
Healing deep from within
Dr Wayne Dyer, aka ‘The father of motivation,’ and author, says, “What someone does or says to you does not cause much problem to you, but the anger, resentment, and feeling of revenge that you hold in your heart against them harms you more. And that is why it is important to let go of those feelings and free ourselves. It is not the snake bite that kills us but the venom that continues to pour in our system after the bite.”
Many saints too have spoken about the ill-effects of having feelings of anger and vengeance. Sant Kabir said that anger is the presence of sin, and forgiveness is the presence of God. The Buddha once said, “Holding on to anger is akin to grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else, but you are the one who gets burned.”
Bijal soon realised that although by not expressing her anger she was saving herself from guilt and self-flagellation, she was not doing herself any good by bottling up all the anger she was feeling. Through her continued introspection, it dawned on her that though she had stopped expressing her anger, she continued to rant about the triggering incidents to friends and family. She had been managing her anger only at an intellectual level, and now it had metamorphosed into resentment. It became blatantly obvious to her that no amount of intellectualising would help in matters involving emotions.
For any permanent reform, she needed to work on her subconscious mind, which is the seat of all our strong feelings. She started practising meditation and became more aware of when and how this insidious anger or resentment still crept up on her. She learnt emotional freedom techniques and the Sedona Method, which helped her release all her anger and resentment at a subconscious level. She practised gratitude as well.
She shares, “Last year when I offered complimentary gratitude courses, I learnt to look for the positive in every situation. An epiphany dawned on me that there were innumerable things to be grateful for and that one could never overdo being grateful. Cultivating an attitude full of gratitude made me focus on only the good things that happened to me. I largely stopped focussing on things which went wrong and, instead, searched for things to appreciate. Thus, there remained no reason to be angry.
“My anger has mellowed quite a bit, but it still trips me up on some days. I still have a long way to go, but I prefer to appreciate how far I have come since our first encounter.”
If I were to reveal how my mind would perceive and process different negative emotions, then it would be in a simple two-line story. Any insignificant incident would trigger a chain of multiple complicated feelings, and I would be in their full grip not knowing what to do. I would just go blank staring at any object right in front of me. I wish I had better training at understanding and managing my emotions earlier. And if I knew what every emotion has come to teach me, it would have saved me a lot of time.
Conditioning by society
Jyoti Pande, a mindfulness practitioner, says, “We have been conditioned to believe that negative emotions should not be exhibited, and right from childhood, we learn to suppress them, which becomes the root cause of many illnesses like anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues.”
She feels that it is the resistance that creates the problems, whether it is anger, fear, shame, or guilt. All emotions tell us something, e.g., anger tells us that our boundaries have been violated, guilt tells us that we had the option of acting in a different way, and fear tells us that our survival is at stake.
Eckart Tolle, the famous author and speaker, very elaborately explains, “First of all, the negative feelings arising within need to be accepted and acknowledged. You can’t start with letting go because the presence of those emotions is a part of the is-ness of the moment. To deny or argue with what is, creates suffering. Then, the next step is to identify the link between the feeling and the thought processes. The person needs to find out whether there is a thought process keeping that feeling alive by playing out past scenarios, by dwelling on certain painful narratives, and repeating them in the mind, which gives renewed energy to the feeling.”
Jyoti concurs that as a mindfulness practitioner, accepting the emotions, no matter how painful, constitutes the first step. “The idea is to welcome them like a guest, and then, as the guests leave, they do too. The practice of mindfulness helps a lot as it teaches us about being aware of emotions in our body, in the form of sensations, and becoming aware of our thoughts and feelings associated with them, instead of pushing them away or suppressing them.”
Another practice which she followed was being compassionate with herself in case she experienced emotions such as jealousy and asking herself questions like “What was it trying to tell me? Did I want to be in the person’s place I am jealous of?”
She adds, “In my journey, I have learnt that all emotions need to be treated with gentleness. They are like a baby crying. The first thing to do is to pick up the baby, soothe her and then see whether she is hungry, or the diaper needs to be changed, or something else. It is the same with troubling emotions; they need to be accepted, held, and then seen as to what can be done about them.
Naming is one way of becoming aware: Oh, I can feel the anger or guilt arising in my body. Where in my body can I feel it? Is it the chest? Shoulders? Neck? Belly? And as we pay attention, we see that it starts disappearing as we breathe deeply into the feeling, thus expelling it from our system.”
Therefore, it is important to be acutely aware of our thinking and how it is contributing to the perpetuation of what we are feeling. One must also acknowledge the habitual thought patterns giving rise to these feelings. The most important part of the process of letting go is to cut the link between the thoughts that generate negative feelings.
If one has enough awareness, one might realise that the old painful narrative and the associated feelings have a life of their own. They have no purpose except to make you unhappy. In fact, they don’t want you to be conscious of them so that they can live and feed on you more. But once you know the momentum of these subconscious thoughts and subsequent feelings, you can look through them and choose not to believe in them anymore. In other words, when one begins to see how they are creating pain ultimately, that is the beginning of its end. And finally, one stops fuelling the feelings with more habitual thoughts. When one stops reviving a negative cycle, it subsides by itself. You don’t need to let go of it; instead, it lets go of you.
Being a watcher
When there is a sudden surge of an emotional wave rising within, giving it time and watching it from a distance gives one a sense of detachment from it and, thus, a better perspective. It is mostly our response to fluctuating emotions that matters more than the emotions themselves.
Chintan Malhotra, a filmmaker and photographer, shares, “Being an introvert, I have mostly kept the Pandora’s box of my emotional experiences to myself, which made me find ways to tackle them on my own. I understood that escaping the unpleasant feelings doesn’t really work in the long run. My habit of observing things helped a lot. Looking at my fears and insecurities objectively and rationally helped me in reducing their grip over me, and their intensity went down.” Chintan believes that when we do not observe them from a witness mode, we get entangled by the stories cooked by our mind and, sometimes, even imagine scenarios multiple times in our heads before they occur, only to find out later how false, untrue, and unnecessary it was to spend time and energy on all the overthinking and worrying.
He adds, “Two things really help me: spending quality time to know myself deeply and keeping a relaxed state of mind. I remember how I was always told that I was the naughtiest kid at home, carefree and wild-spirited, but over the years, the childlike quality of being fascinated, happy, and curious about everything seemed to have disappeared. I’d like to experience again the happiness of the little child that I was.”
As for me, my personal breakthrough happened when I began to talk to the troubling thoughts and feelings which comprised my fears, doubts, and insecurities. I started taking them out on a date, sitting with them, writing them on a journal with love, validating them, being empathetic with them, and telling them, “Yes, you are important; you are being heard, seen, and felt,” so that they could share the purpose of their occurrence with me. When one learns the art of befriending one’s troubling feelings, they also begin talking back. They share why they have come and what we need to do with them. We, then, learn to mother them and take care of them lovingly. Having taught us the important lessons that they came for, they vanish into thin air and help us evolve and be shaped into someone better, wiser, and brighter.
Richard Bach, the author of the bestselling book Illusions, says, “You teach best what you most need to learn.”
Emotions are fleeting and do not last very long unless we nurture them or create stories around them. And making friends with them makes them work in our favour.+.
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