meditations for emotional reactions

Discredit Emotions or Process Them… What’s the Difference?

Downtime associated with being emotional can range from minor (and a little irritating like when you get upset while driving and it affects your mood for a few minutes) to debilitating (depression that can last for weeks or more). Meditation is the most effective and most natural way to curtail time spent in lousy moods.

The question was posed to me recently whether the idea is to adopt rational thinking as a way to discredit emotions. Absolutely not! Emotions have incredible value. If we discredit them and quickly seek out a rational solution, there is a risk of suppressing feelings that are important.

In reality, we explore and validate the emotions fully. This is done once we have relaxed and entered into the meditation state.

As a quick reminder, when seeking to meditate, take the necessary time to relax using deep breathing, a body relaxation technique (such as doing a body scan) and then a check in with the thoughts coming up. Be conscious in clearing away aspects of the day that might try to dominate your thoughts and thus your meditation session.

When you can feel your body settling into that pleasant, somewhat heavy feeling and your mind is less active, direct your focus to your feelings. We will walk through an example to show you the difference between discrediting emotions (not recommended) and thoroughly processing them.

Let’s consider someone who is distressed due to receiving bad news about her romantic relationship. A woman has learned that her boyfriend, who has been a little distant lately has suggested taking a break so they can see other people. This issue has come up before for her in a prior relationship and in the end, it led to a painful breakup.

Feelings stirred by difficulties in romance should be processed promptly to avoid deep dismay.

If the woman chose the route of turning to rationalizing her feelings, she might decide that really there is no major threat. Her boyfriend said everything is fine but he wants to make sure he can commit long term so wants to date a few others before doing so.

In this approach, she agrees to his proposal and each time anxiety or fears surface, she turns to her rational explanation and convinces herself that things will be fine.

This is really a terrible approach in most instances for the simple reason that the feelings of anxiety, worry, dread etc have not been honored. Instead of considering that the feelings may contain an important message (ie. ‘something isn’t right here’), she has averted her attention by discrediting the emotions in favor of a rational explanation.

Yes, there is a chance that her relationship will return to the level of closeness she desires but I would say chances are slim. By discrediting the emotion, there is no exploration nor responsibility taken as to why her boyfriend is requesting the break. it is always a wise move to assume you have some responsibility in situations that are emotionally disruptive.

If someone sought me out for counseling with this predicament, my recommendation would be to meditate specifically on their feelings, to honor and validate their fears and notice where their mind tended to go.

Let’s say her meditation yielded the following feedback;

“Once I got settled in, I immediately felt panic. it was intense. I was brought back to when things fell apart with Alan 4 years ago. it was horrible. About 2 years into the relationship, he casually suggested a break in which we could see other people. I told him that was of no interest to me and he kind of agreed that it was the same for him. Yet in order that we know we were really right for each other, he thought it would be a good test.

“He assured me that a month or 2 would probably be all he needed and then we’d be back together and stronger than ever. I agreed but I had a bad feeling about it. I of course didn’t date anyone but he was quickly dating a girl. Three weeks later, he broke up with me with the explanation that he didn’t think we were right for each other. I was devastated.

“The possibility of this happening again is causing me to intense anxiety.”

Despite the apparent disruption, this is a vital part of processing emotions. Step 1 is to relax and let the emotions reveal their full intensity. Take ownership of the feelings. Even though the feelings are quite uncomfortable, owning them fully allows them to begin to subside.

Think of your emotions as having a message. If we receive the message, the emotions can begin to calm down. In our example, the message is “I’m panicking because I’m afraid my boyfriend might leave me just like what happened in my last relationship.”

By acknowledging the full force of the emotion, we can move on to step 2 which is receiving the message. And having received the message, we can then (and only then) shift to our reasoning mind.

Shifting to the reasoning mind is different than rationalizing away the emotion. A reasonable thought process in this kind of situation may sound like, “Ok, so why might my boyfriend want to initiate this kind of break? Is he unhappy? Is he attracted to someone else? Am I doing something that that is causing him to feel trapped or suffocated?”

Having owned the emotion means we can enter into this kind of thinking and not be consumed in the feelings. It does take practice because the more intense feelings will try to dominate the meditation and possibly suggest a very dark narrative.

When I say a dark narrative, I mean the temptation to project the worst possible outcome and thus ramp up the emotions even harder. This results in a super dark emotional state which can be even harder to emerge from.

Using meditation as a way to process the emotion will help you avoid those kinds of rabbit holes. True, the reality may be unpleasant. If some of her hunches are accurate, nothing is to be gained by ignoring the feelings. The best thing she can do is likely communicate her concerns and hope her boyfriend is willing to talk honestly about what he is feeling.

In this way, there is a chance they can mend things before too much damage is done. Of course it is possible that her boyfriend has his sights on someone else and is trying to craftily maneuver himself out of his current relationship in which case, there might not be much that she can do.

Meditation thus is not a fix-all process. It is a way to examine and contemplate the situations in your life in a mature and methodical way. Ignoring negative feelings and developing a convenient way to ‘rationalize them away’ can have disastrous results.

It is recommended that a person develop the habit of processing emotions. Think of food processing. We take raw elements and take them through a process that yields edible food. Processing emotions means taking the raw feelings and reaching mature and reasonable conclusions which fuel smart actions.

Learning to process emotions while in meditation takes practice especially if this is a brand new idea. Remember these steps;

  1. Honor the emotion and sit with it first and foremost.
  2. Validate and own the feelings to their fullest (ie. I’m definitely really angry right now!’
  3. Begin to explore when you started feeling as you do and what is the likely cause.
  4. Having identified the cause, move into a more reasonable mind set (granted, this takes practice as it can be tempting to become even more emotional at this point in the meditation)
  5. Begin to meditate upon mature and reasonable courses of action. Remember that just meditating is not going to resolve difficult situations but consciously examining things can lead to good ideas.
  6. Review your options and see how each of them feel.
  7. Make a decision as to what you will do and once your meditation is finished, act promptly if appropriate.
intermediate meditation tips how to meditate

When Your Emotional Reactions Push People Away

Having a Meditation Practice will Reduce your Emotional Reactions

Have you noticed how touchy some people are? Sometimes no matter we say or don’t say, the person we are with gets upset no matter what. Or what if you’re that person, the one who gets anxious, angry, worried or shut down whenever something unexpected happens?

This is a symptom of someone who feels things deeply (which is positive) but doesn’t have a process to manage their emotional reactions in real time (can lead to breakdowns in relationships). Our emotional reactions can cause major problems.

Emotions will be easier to deal with when you think of them as reactions to external stimuli. What I mean is that something outside of us happens (our partner says something jarring, we lose out job, we get dumped, our child doesn’t follow our directions, someone snakes in front of you to grab your parking spot…) and we have a feeling about it. That is normal.

Where people get into trouble is when they don’t objectively examine their emotional reactions and act in the heat of the moment. We are mostly addressing anger and fear in this sense.

Meditation is a practice that gives you an objective perspective on your inner world. Let’s say for example you are out with your boyfriend and he seems to be spending a lot of time talking to another girl. As you notice it, you can feel yourself getting jealous, frustrated and angry. You don’t WANT to be a nagging neurotic girlfriend but you don’t feel good watching them interact. He seems to be rather flirtatious with her!

How can meditation help? Well, in the precise moment that this is happening, it will be hard to slip into meditation. But if you have a regular practice, you will be able to notice what is going on and avoid doing something dramatic like throwing a drink in someone’s face, or making a scene by yelling in public or even imitating your own little flirtation to even the score. These are all reactions that don’t help the situation at all.

Meditation helps you strengthen your awareness of your feelings. The first step is always to identify your feeling as opposed to trying to read the situation. If you skip over the feeling and  try to assess what is happening, you are likely to misread the situation.

In our example, it might be that the other girl is flirting and your boyfriend is just being polite. Or he might be flirting in a way that crosses a line. Or maybe both people have partners and no one is crossing the line but they are having a good conversation.

First things first, tune into your feelings and identify them. Why is this important? Because if you are angry and jealous, I guarantee you won’t be able to objectively see the situation accurately. Then if you act on your emotion, you will push people away. It is possible to note that you are angry but then, because you have developed greater self awareness through meditation, still view what is happening objectively. You can actually tune into the energy of their interaction.

If it turns out that the girl is trying to flirt with your boyfriend but he is keeping a good boundary, it wouldn’t be fair to take things out on him. You could see that he is trustworthy and let it go. If however he is being inappropriate in the interaction, your feelings help you now how it bothers you. Then you can calm yourself down and decide how to handle it maturely.

Mature handling of emotional reactions and difficult situations improve as you meditate because you develop peaceful ways to manage your inner life first. Then the outer life follows suit.

If your boyfriend was flirting, you could pull him aside and tell him that you feel angry because he appears to be flirting. If he denies it, that’s hard. Assuming you have read the energy correctly, if he is unwilling to own what he’s doing, your best bet is to take some distance. It might be that he will acknowledge it later on or maybe not. But you can’t live peacefully expecting everyone will take responsibility for their actions. A lot of the time, they can’t see what they are doing.

Peace comes when you identify your feeling, validate the feeling as real, calm yourself down and then examine what is going on. Certainly finding your boyfriend flirting in front of your face is not easy. But your task isn;t to control the whole world. Your task is to manage your emotions. This will bring you to a calmer place and from there you can see what is true and what isn’t.