A Simple Coping Technique to Deal with Difficult Feelings

emotions and feelings-ocean
Coping techniques are innate; we all have emotional and behavioral go-to’s on moments we do not want to face our emotions. Over time, these techniques become so internalized as habitual practice that we even forget to stop, drop, and understand our feelings in order to respond accordingly.

When we were babies our primary communication channel was crying. When we were hungry we cried, when we were cold we cried too and guess what we did when we wanted mom’s attention? Cried again. This magic tool was used for all those unwanted feelings and – for most of us – the magic tool worked like a charm; as soon as we cried we got what we “needed”.

As we grow up, we get more complex feelings. Many of us never learned to express these deeper emotions such as heartbreak, disappointment, self-rejection, indifference, depression and loss (amongst a thousand others!) correctly. Many of us even learned to hide them because, sadly enough, society labeled many of the above as “bad” while, in a parallel scheme, we are also taught and learned that what we get in life (including these emotions) is usually a result of our direct actions. For many of us this translates into:

1)    I experience a negative feeling; therefore, I must have done something wrong.

2)    Only ‘bad people’ make ‘bad actions’.

3)    I am bad.

All these self-imposed rules make us reject these so-called ‘bad’ emotions and help us develop tools to overcome them immediately and – just like crying – find an easy ‘magical’ outlet that would stop us from feeling anything that we felt as uncomfortable, fearful, bad, or negative.

Do any of the following sentences sound familiar?

  • I feel sad so I will eat chocolate ice cream to feel better.
  • Oh, I am so stressed! I have to exercise 2 hours in a row to get rid of this feeling.
  • I am incredibly angry at you, I do not want to talk right now.
  • I have a work interview today, but I really do not want to go. I will call in sick and stay home, I do not think this job will help me at all anyways.

And these?

  • I am horrible; I ate the complete pint of ice cream.
  • I ran for 3 hours and still feel stressed…I washed the dishes, did laundry, did homework and still feel stressed…there must be something wrong with me.
  •  I keep losing friends, nobody likes/loves me. Even my family gets tired of me and is not as nice as they are to the neighbor’s daughter.
  • I am so dumb; I cannot seem to get a job. I probably deserve to not work anyways, I cannot do anything right.

None of us would like to feel and accept these ‘bad feelings’, so we try to avoid them and then blame ourselves for the outcomes of our actions. We consider ourselves failures; self-perceived failures. I say ‘self-perceived failures’ because neither eating one pint of ice cream, acting on one relapse behavior, missing one interview or avoid having a difficult conversation makes you – or will ever make you – a failure! But you’d rather think they make you a failure, because – I repeat- “being a failure” is a perfect excuse to avoid difficult situations. 

If we never sit down, listen to ourselves and acknowledge what we are actually feeling, we will keep falling back into behaviors and actions that seem to make everything right – but only for a short time. I have to say, it is not easy to pause when we feel something different; it takes practice, hard work, and tons of courage. Throughout the COPING 101 posts I will give you techniques that have helped me cope with these ‘unlabeled emotions’ in a healthy way and feel them enough to know that no matter why I try to do to avoid them, It won’t release me from sadness, disappointment, stress, or any other feeling that society does not deem acceptable. 

The first coping technique is very simple – and its concept is the foundation for every other one. Feelings and emotions aren’t dangerous and can’t harm you. What may harm you is how you react to them. By reactions I mean what you say to yourself or others when you feel them and/or what behaviors you engage in when you feel them?

Remember; we have all eaten when sad; we have all yelled and isolated when disappointed, we have all used unhealthy behaviors when stressed, and we have all “disappeared” or “call in sick” to our responsibilities and fears.

This technique relies on acceptance without judgement. To do this just know that anything that you might feel is normal and is okay; it’s neither good, bad, positive, or negative. What matters is how you react to these feelings. Do you allow yourself to feel them or do you try to hide them? 

Feeling your feelings is hard, it hurts, and it takes time. But by allowing yourself to feel them you will gain a deeper understanding of how you usually react and this will help you change your way of coping from reacting to responding.

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