Written by Francine Baffa, LICSW, BCBA-D
Edited by Joe DeNoon
“We’ve got to be able to reconnect with ourselves, so that we can move forward in the world.”
This quote comes from Dr. Susan David, a researcher in the field of emotional agility. Given our recent discussion and posts on transition in August, I thought it was important that we consider how to be with all our emotions, especially those that arise in times of change and when we feel stuck in the messy middle. Dr. Susan David describes emotional agility as our ability to experience our thoughts and emotions in a way that encourages us to reveal the best of ourselves. It is not chasing happiness. Rather, it is the quest for one’s authentic self. Dr. David outlines three key steps for one to follow to gain this acceptance of where one is, in a healthy and supportive way:
- Show Up
Face your real feelings, even the uncomfortable ones. Being able to recognize your emotions is the precursor to consciously deciding how you’ll deal with them. This first step in developing emotional agility helps you notice when you are hooked by your thoughts and feelings.
When one is hooked, their attention is crowded and these thoughts or feelings overwhelm you. When this occurs, there’s no room to examine them. One strategy that may help you consider your situation more objectively is the simple act of labeling the emotions you are feeling.
- Step Out
Detach from your emotions,view options from an objective perspective, and accept them for what they are. Acceptance is the opposite of control. By not immediately acting on every thought you have, but responding to your ideas and emotions with an open attitude, you give yourself the space to fully experience them and to assess them with greater clarity. Take 10 deep breaths and notice what is happening in the moment. You may not feel relief at that minute. However, the important thing is to show yourself some compassion and examine the reality of the situation. An integral component of being able to cope with emotions is the practice of self-compassion, which is simply treating and responding to yourself the way you would a loved one who was sad or struggling. You deserve to extend to yourself the same kindness that you would extend to others that you love.
- Align with Your Why
Use your core values to set goals that reflect the real you and then act on them. Remember, when you unhook yourself from your difficult thoughts and emotions, you expand your choices and are free to make choices that reflect the real you!
- Embrace a Full Life
Part of having a full life is feeling all your emotions, both pleasant and unpleasant. When you numb sadness, you also numb happiness and joy. The reality is that you cannot selectively numb emotions. Using negative behaviors to avoid your feelings may help you experience less sadness and anger, but they also stop you from feeling happiness and joy. That does not sound like a good, let alone great tradeoff. Trying to fight our feelings often leads to more suffering. Using negative behaviors to try to numb our feelings is akin to putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.
Rather than trying to suppress your feelings, work to be an observer of them. Notice the emotions that you experience and where you feel them in your body. Then, try to cultivate a curious and nonjudgmental stance. Our emotions are often messengers which signal something important — they offer us data that we can use to direct our actions.
The rainbow of emotions is there to help you — feel them all!