Working with Difficult Emotions

A person may describe themself as an emotional type or describe somebody else in the same way. People speak of the difficulty of handling their emotions.

Emotions cover a wide range of human experiences. As an umbrella concept, it is far too big to handle.

We need to specify which emotions generate a problem in our life. Is it primarily anger, fear, anxiety, envy, guilt, jealousy, depression, grief, a trauma, self-hate and more?  Do two or three emotions stand out requiring attention, practice and change?

The practice of exploration and insights into our emotional life takes place throughout our life until nature squeezes the last outbreath from our body.

The emotion and the description of the emotion matter. Is the description employing a word or two to identify the emotion? Are the words you use reactive and judgemental, such as:

  • I hate myself.
  • I never do anything right
  • I am so negative
  • I feel so bad about myself.
  • I am full of…(anger, shame, despair etc).
  • She/he/they are so……

Such judgemental language springs from the painful emotion itself. We don’t see that. We think it is an objective and independent statement about our emotions.

Negativity in the viewpoint reveals a dislike of the emotional experience. This is the equivalent of putting word on the fire.

The description and the described matter equally.

Our emotions do not have any independent self-existence. They do not arise out of thin air, no matter how unexpected they are. If a sudden emotional reaction, it indicates we ignored or missed the warning signals that something was building up.

Practice includes taking notice of those signals. breathing through them so we do not buy into them. When the traffic reveals amber we prepare to stop. When the traffic light shows red, we stop. When the traffic light shows green, we drive on – mindfully.

If we wish to take the potency out of any painful emotion, then it requires practices.

You begin with identifying a specific emotion that impacts on your daily life.

Practice includes learning to observe yourself.

Useful Questions to Explore

  • What are the triggers for the arising of a problematic emotion?
  • Is it another person? Being alone? A sequence of thoughts? Submitting to an unhealthy habit?
  • Is there a story with the emotion?
  • Is there an event or events from decades ago or yesterday that overwhelm you?
  • Are there pictures/projections in the story intensifying your emotions?
  • Does moodiness eventually give rise to a volcanic upsurge and outburst of emotions?
  • Are there any demands upon yourself or others so you end up in a state of emotional reactivity?
  • Can you remember all emotions, like everything else, arise, stay for a while and pass? 

We need to listen to our responses to such questions to appreciate our dedication to working with emotions. Another person, a trusted friend or wise counsellor, can support our willingness to work on ourselves to feel integrated with emotions rather than oppressed by them.

Difficult emotions require memory, reactivity, blind spots, energy, projections, and repetition of old patterns. We can also develop healthy and wholesome emotions to dissolve the problematic ones.

Neglect of connection with feelings/emotions enables them to build up. Being too busy, apathy, getting lost in imagination, addiction to the mobile phone can contribute to painful long-term impact on our emotions.

Our emotions can also dry up. We become cold, hard and indifferent.

An inability to feel and express empathy shows detachment and alienation from emotions.

Sometimes the vulnerability to reactive emotions occurs in a particular time and place. Where and when do we experience agitation in emotions? Explore new ways to handle the situation.

Know when you are most vulnerable to a wave of painful emotion.

Explore Practices.

Mindfulness practices, meditations, movement, dance, outdoors can contribute to finding harmony with intensity of feelings rather than succumbing to pressure.

  • Talk with others. Apply what is helpful.
  • See what you can read on Google about your emotion. Apply what is helpful.
  • Listen to podcasts on the issue. Apply what is helpful.
  • Watch YouTube. Apply what is helpful.

Times of absence of duress from emotions serve as a support. We can quietly abide with this moments/minutes or longer of calm appreciating that nothing winds us up at such a time. The familiarity with such times contribute to regular returning to such peace of mind. Length of time of peace of mind will naturally extend itself.

You know you are on the right track with your practice. An issue which sparked a lot of reactivity has a little less power over you. It is not that you are trying to control your emotions but learning/practising to work with them.  Your early recognition for the causes and conditions contributes to a letting go of one of the conditions to minimise or dissolve the potential for a painful impact.

As these painful emotions start to fade or dissolve, peace of mind, happiness and empathy naturally arise far more frequently until they become the norm.

A Guided Meditation

Sit still. Sit tall and upright. Two feet firmly on the floor. You can close the eyes, half-open or fully open.



Allow a painful emotion to arise without trying to control it. Regard it as an uninvited guest, not as oneself.

Be mindful of emotions, perceptions, memories, intentions and projections.

See what posture works best to move through painful emotions – sit, stand, walk, recline, dance.

Turn the attention calmly to the physical sensations in the body. Notice especially what part of the body releases the sensations, such as the abdomen, stomach or chest area.

Keep softly moving the focus of attention into that area experiencing the different degrees of unpleasant or painful sensations and feelings.

Notice the thoughts coming out from painful emotions or difficult body sensations.

Settle into the bare experience of the feelings and sensations coming out of the cells noticing all the changes taking place.

Stay calmly focused in the locality even when it feels calm and clear there.

Remember PRACTICE serves as the key theme.

May all beings change what needs to change

May all beings develop what needs to develop

May all experience daily well-being

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