How to Handle Difficult Emotions with Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a powerful way of handling difficult emotions. As a human being, you’ll always experience emotions. In your mindfulness practice, emotions continue to arise and pass away, just like in everyday life. However, as you turn your attention inwards, you have a greater possibility to notice and process emotions that you may have suppressed in the past.

If you have a strong, difficult emotion such as deep sadness during your mindfulness practice, the temptation may be to fight the emotion or run away from it. Consider the last time you experienced a difficult emotion — how did you deal with it? Perhaps you escaped the emotion by distracting yourself by socializing, overworking or exercising.

None of these activities are bad in themselves, but your underlying desire is to escape from the emotion. The question is, was it effective? Did your method work in the long run? If so, that’s fine. But if not, you may like to try the mindful approach.

Mindfulness teaches a healthy way of being with emotions. Strangely, the secret is counter-intuitive — you need to just be with the emotions instead of trying to get rid of them. The act of avoiding emotions gives them power and makes them more of a problem. By allowing the emotions to simply be, they become less of a problem.

Your difficult emotion, maybe anger, sadness or boredom, is like a neighbor you don’t like who really wants to come into your home. The neighbor keeps knocking on the door. You have three options:

  • Your first option is to get annoyed and shout at the neighbor to go away. Your neighbor shouts back and you get into an energy-draining argument.

  • The second option is to pretend the knocking isn’t happening. But no matter what you do, you can hear it in the background. That’s frustrating.

  • The final option is to stop the struggle and simply let him come in. You don’t have to like him, but you find the best way to deal with him is to acknowledge him and allow him to be there.

That’s the idea with acceptance of emotions — you let go of the battle with your emotion, step by step.

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