How to deal with painful emotions

Most of us have learned to keep certain feelings out because they are uncomfortable or “bad”. There are shades of emotion, all varying in colour and intensity. You have felt doubtful. Fear has gripped you, its claws digging deep into your flesh. Or a deep sadness refuses to depart. Shame or guilt hounds you with its whips and chains. Perhaps you are in the throes of uncertainty, utter despair, even, and there is no one and nothing that can dissolve the desolation you find yourself in. You are in the dark. Here are three things to do when darkness descends upon you.

Photo by Eyasu Etsub on Unsplash

1/ Hello, darkness, my old friend

Simon & Garfunkel’s melancholic acoustics visit the experience of emotion so intense that it presents the image of walking the busy streets, totally apart from the crowds that swirl around you. This is the experience of darkness.

Like when you turn out the lights late at night, the task is to orient yourself to the the new light, or the seeming absence of it. When you feel completely overwhelmed by what has come upon you, sit with it. Hello, darkness, my old friend. Understand deeply what this means, what this feels like. It helps to sit with the thoughts and feelings that come up and, for the moment, try to avoid attaching any “doings” or “fixings” to them.

The thing you are experiencing has been kept in the shadows. Give it space, let it in a little. Imagine that you are an innkeeper along a dark, wind-worn road and you hear a knock one wintery night. Standing outside, is a decrepit creature who hangs its head and is afraid to speak. Hello, old friend.

2/ Listen and speak.

Why has this particular feeling come to you at this point in time? With true curiosity and compassion, ask this shadowed part of yourself this question. Converse with it, as you would a friend. Let go a little bit of control; see what they say without placing judgment or expectation on a certain answer. I have come to understand that often these divorced parts of the personality want to tell me something. They are misunderstood rather than ill-intentioned and evil. Hear them and speak yourself.

3/ Keep your grip on your humanity.

The easiest and most dangerous way to lose yourself is to abandon your humanity. There will be times when you are furious with others, yourself, and the world. To feel hatred and contempt is okay. To explore your apathy or loneliness can be useful. It is all part of the process. However, you must remember that eventually, you must return. In the end, you are not a solitary event. Your life can be traced back through the generations to the beginnings of life. No matter what way you think about it — biologically, politically, semantically, spiritually — you are deeply connected to everything else, human and otherwise. Buddha is quoted as saying, “In separateness lies the world’s greatest misery; in compassion lies the world’s true strength.” To feel this interconnectedness is the marker of return. When you are in the dark, know at the back of your mind that the goal is the return. It may take a while and the way may be difficult but you will return.

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