Seen, Soothed and Safe- dealing with big emotions like sadness
Someone during a recent session Maria (not her real name) explained how sad she was feeling about the break-up of a friendship. “Oh well, I keep telling myself- there is nothing I can do.”
This seemed to be mindful in some way- not getting into the story. She reflected that another friend was also feeling sad about lack of work and wasn’t going to go to a birthday party they'd both been invited to. Instead she was going for a walk with her sadness on the beach. Maria meanwhile, was going to the party as this was just what was needed….
When big emotions come, they are our children. They pull at our shirt sleeves and ask to be seen. When we turn away from them, escaping into TV, internet, a glass of wine they may go- only to return later.
The kindness here is recognise the emotion- which is stressful to have, and turn towards it. Because of how painful emotions can feel, we try to escape them. But in reality we drag the pain on into all our moments. Turning towards it instead allows the emotion to be freed sooner.
So don’t stay with the content of the story that drives it, but instead, perhaps with hand on the heart area, allow it to be. Listen in and get close. Name it- “this is sadness” or “sadness is here”. In this way we are recognising the emotion- but note it’s not “I am sad”. What we are doing is starting to see it is a passing feeling that we can observe. Keep exploring; are there other feelings here too? Get closer- is there disappointment, fear, anger too? Perhaps shame, feelings of isolation, of being unwanted...
Then turn towards the body and see how this is felt. Is it heaviness in the heart, tiredness around the eyes? Is it tension in the shoulders or the feeling of a tight fist in the belly. Keep exploring- allowing all the time this feeling to just be here- with no resistance, or desire to changer fix it. This is the body (not "MY" body) holding this emotion right now. It’s ok. If emotions become too intense return to the breath, breathing deeply into the belly. Moving position if needs be- again, looking for what would be kind.
The body and mind wants to be soothed, so breathing deeply, giving yourself a hug, speaking kindly to yourself “It’s ok, this is stressful, you’re doing ok” starts the process of feeling safe. And this ultimately what we all want- to feel safe.
Having a break up with someone or an upsetting situation of that kind threatens us on a very basic level and starts all sorts of thinking- I’m not ok, I’m not good enough, I’m not wanted, people don’t like me, why me, it’s not fair, - all of which creates a feeling of disconnection. And from a very basic instinctual place in us, feeling disconnected is a danger to our very survival. We might be rejected by the group and from a survival point of view that is deeply worrying.
So in this process we are really speaking to our deepest fears- I see you, I can soothe you and now you can feel safe.
We are fostering new ways of being with ourselves, which promote kindness and self-compassion. But it also helps us realise we don’t choose much here- not the emotions, nor the body sensations, nor the thoughts that keep the storyline going. But when we become aware of what is going on, we can start a new process. Become aware of a story line and choose not to get involved. We can choose instead to turn towards the emotion and to explore how it manifests in the body- how it actually feels. We can practice compassion to ourselves in our most emotional and stressed moments and we can begin to see that we don’t need things to be different to be ok. We don’t have to love it, but we can rest more peacefully with what is present.
It also allows the emotion to pass sooner. Just like
a child that is being ignored, it doesn’t keep coming back, asking for attention. It feels attended to, soothed, loved.