Befriending Your Feelings

On handling difficult emotions

Picture this: you’re having a close friend over for dinner. You’re excited to see them and welcome them into your home. The table is set, you’ve done everything to create a perfect meal from pairing the wine to folding the napkins.

The doorbell rings and your friend walks in. She’s visibly upset. It looks like she’s been crying and her head is sinking so low it might disappear. She tells you she’s feeling really sad and down and flops onto the couch.

In another scenario, there’s a pounding on the door. You rush to answer and it’s your friend who is boiling with rage. She asks “Can I vent?” And before you can answer, she’s spewing frustration with other people in her life.

In a third and final scenario, your friend arrives and she’s clearly on edge: restless, jittery, and glancing around as if something bad is about to happen. She’s taking lots of deep breaths.

What do you do?

Would you tell each friend “sorry, I can’t deal with you right now”? Send them back to the door? Tell them to be quiet, to be happy, to stop being so negative?

If you’re a caring friend — which I’m sure you are — you wouldn’t.

You’d sit and listen. You’d console where necessary. You’d offer a blanket, a cup of tea, a glass of water. Maybe you’d give advice or empathize with a story of your own if they were open to it. But mostly, you’d be there to witness their pain.

You’d accept them.

Now, think about the last time you had a really bad day with a rough set of emotions. How did you talk to and treat yourself? Did you try to suck it up and go on with your day or did you take a moment to pause, sit with yourself, and acknowledge your suffering?

In other words: were you a good friend to yourself?

We don’t judge our friends for their feelings. We accept them with open arms and ask what we can do to help. But when it comes to our negative emotion states, we tend to treat them like some sort of toxic hot potato. We can’t get rid of them fast enough. We judge ourselves for feeling “too sensitive” or “dramatic”. We assume having negative feelings makes us a negative person, so we refuse to acknowledge the natural ebb and flow of our emotions.

Having a full range of feelings is healthy. We cannot go through life happy 100% of the time; otherwise we’re missing something or detached from reality. Your feelings deserve compassion, just like your dear friends would if they were going through something tough.

A relationship wouldn’t be harmonious or functional if somebody jumped ship every time the going gets rough. The same goes for our inner harmony. Your negative emotions have an important story to tell you. When we shut them out and ignore them, we are slamming the door in the face of a crucial part of ourselves.

Thankfully, we can rewire our brains to offer ourselves more self-compassion through some simple thought and behavior exercises. The next time you have a negative feeling and you’re having a hard time being kind to yourself, try imagining a loved one experiencing the same emotion and use that as a template to guide the way you talk to yourself. Tell yourself things like:

  • It’s perfectly okay and reasonable to feel this way.
  • I can be with myself while I get through this.
  • This, too, shall pass.
  • This isn’t something that needs to be fixed; it needs to be felt.

Do kind things for yourself, such as:

  • Taking a personal day from work
  • Rewatching a show that tends to put a smile on your face
  • Focusing your senses on something soothing, like tea, some light stretches or essential oils
  • Not judging yourself if you need to cry for a while

It may feel unnatural at first but like anything, practice makes perfect. Our feelings deserve the same love, care, and attention that we would give to a friend in need. So don’t slam the door on your emotions. Welcome them like the good friend you are.

I’m an LCSW and a psychotherapist in NYC. I write about self-care and personal growth. Feel your feels! :) // IG: @kara_bout_yourself

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