Processing Emotions – Step by Step Guide
Processing emotions is about learning to understand, make sense of and deal with emotions in healthy productive ways. Learning to process emotions takes time.
You might be so disconnected from your own feelings or so accustomed to suppressing them that at first you might just feel nothing.
Learning about emotions is like learning anything new – it requires patience and doesn’t happen overnight.
Spend a few minutes throughout the day sitting quietly and focusing on your body, trying to identify what you feel. Use a feelings list to help you identify what it is you might be feeling. If you are prone to emotional outbursts or find yourself being swamped by difficult emotions, wait until the intensity subsides then try to reflect on what you felt.
In order to get to the stage of being able to process emotions and feelings you first need to be able to identify them and stay with them long enough to understand and make sense of them
Stage one. (Identification and awareness of emotions and feelings)
- What feelings/sensations do I have?
- Where in my body am I feeling it? in my chest? throat? stomach?
- What thoughts am I having that indicate what I might be feeling?
- Are there any contradicting thoughts / feelings?
- Do I have any judgments on the thoughts/feelings I have?
- Am I having any urges to suppress/move away from these feelings? Why?
Stage Two – ability to stay with and accept the feelings in order to process.
Tolerating difficult emotional states can be difficult but remember, feeling your feelings will NOT kill you. When you are experiencing a difficult emotional state practise slow breathing, counting to four as you breathe in then counting to five as you breathe out. As you breathe into the feeling, bring a openness and curiosity to the feeling. and ask yourself?
- Is this feeling (s) intolerable?
- Why do I think it is intolerable?
- Do I think something bad will happen if I allow this feeling? What?
- How bad is it on a scale of 1 to 10?
- Am I having distressing physiological sensations?
- What can I do to tolerate this state? (breathe / relax / stay still?)
Stage three – processing in order to act on the emotion appropriately. This stage is basically about understanding why you are having the feeling in order to move on to stage four.
- Are there any needs that are going unmet? (ie do I feel misunderstood / unheard / disrespected?
- Has a boundary been violated by someone?
- Has a value been compromised?
- What is my contribution to this distress?
- Am I falling into old behaviour patterns?
- Is this emotional distress as a result of distorted thinking?
- Is this emotion the triggering of childhood memories?
- Is this distress a result of me not accepting my feeling or judging it as wrong?
- Is this distress from a build-up of different events?
Stage Four – addressing the emotions.
It’s not easy to know how to deal with an emotion or feeling. It’s very helpful to talk to someone whose judgement we trust to get a balanced perspective on what might be happening.
Some emotions are due to distorted thinking patterns and we need to try and re-frame our thinking in more helpful ways in order to release the feelings.
Other times, the feeling is triggered by childhood memories or past trauma and so we need to find ways of letting it go. However, some feelings might be due to a boundary being violated or from a need being unmet and in these cases we may need to be assertive with someone in our lives. Addressing the emotion and feeling in a healthy appropriate way is the key to psychological well-being.
Based on what you conclude from processing you may need to;
- Get a need met.
- Address distorted thinking
- Assert yourself with someone
- Re-establish a boundary
- Let the feeling pass
- Express your thoughts and feelings to someone or through journaling
- Re-align yourself with your values and take corrective action.
- Do the opposite of what your urge is (ie if it is to isolate and sleep – go and take a walk or talk to someone.
- Apologise or make amends to someone
Learning to manage emotions takes time and is difficult to do on your own. But once you really understand your emotions, and can process them effectively, you really can transform your life.