Time to learn some new coping strategies?
A new year is the perfect time to ask: do the ways we have learned to manage our emotions still work for us? Perhaps it is the beliefs we have developed about ourselves that are holding us back and we need to adapt them to our current lives? If so, here’s how:
1. Validating our feelings
Invalidation is the belief that emotions are somehow worthless, and therefore do not need to be validated. However, if we don’t even accept that we have feelings, how can we begin to manage them? Learning that we all have emotions, just like we all have thoughts, is one step; and then learning to give them validity no matter how difficult they may feel is the next.
2. The universality of emotions
In our early years, the belief that difficult feelings are unique to us and therefore make us abnormal might have taken hold. But what emotions could we possibly have that others do not? Is there anyone who is not at times sad, angry or anxious? Realising that all feelings are common to everyone can help us unpick this unhelpful way of seeing ourselves and our emotions.
3. Logic isn’t everything
The belief that to be rational and logical is a superior way of functioning can create problems for us. Certainly, our thoughts can at times appear more sophisticated than our emotions. Indeed, emotions can seem very primal in certain situations. But should we always be logical? Our feelings can sometimes provide more direct information about what maybe troubling us than our logical thoughts; and if we can learn to listen better to our emotional selves it can be our first step to real change.
4. No feelings at all
Are there situations that bother most people but do not bother you? Do you often feel numb, detached from reality, like you have no feelings at all? Even emptiness comes from somewhere; and if we have this schema, somewhere along the lines we learned to cut ourselves off from whatever was troubling us. One way of challenging this is to allow ourselves to access the direct experience of emotion through engagement with others – however minimal that is. This can start the journey to unlearning this coping technique.
5. Staying in control
Do you believe you have to stifle your emotions to stay in control? To challenge this schema, it helps to understand that controlling your behaviour is different to controlling your feelings. This is a useful technique to accept that we can maintain control of our actions, while still acknowledging our painful feelings. Instead of stifling our emotions, we can integrate them into what we are doing.
6. Mixed emotions
Some of us might believe that we cannot feel mixed emotions, such as happy and sad, or angry and joyful, at the same time. Actually, we can. Indeed, this is so common that the term ‘mixed feelings’ has become part of our everyday speech. Learning to accept that any number of emotions can co-exist, can help us feel more tranquil and more in touch with ourselves.
7. Letting go
Do you focus on sadness, replaying the same thing over and over? Or feel that you cannot ‘let go’ of your emotions and instead you need to dwell on them? We may have become so accustomed to this way of managing our feelings that we regard it as the natural way of doing things. Recognising in fact that this style of emotional process is a ‘belief’ is a big step. This recognition can precipitate a gradual ‘letting go’ of our ruminations.
8. Blaming others
Some of us may have cultivated the belief over the course of our lives that our feelings are caused by others. But blaming others rarely gets us very far. Challenging this schema can help us increase personal responsibility for our own psychological growth.
9. Making sense of our emotions
If our feelings no longer make sense to us, we might think life has no meaning. Again, it can help to take a step back and see that this is a ‘belief’ rather than a fact; and that we lost connection between feeling and meaning. Making sense of our emotions will help us to overcome this confusion and will give us the ability to plan ahead.
10. Feelings that last forever
Do you worry that a strong emotion will never end? Think back to past experience – have you had strong feelings before and did they end? Using our past in this way can help us to question a deeply embedded schema such as this; and we can learn that even painful emotions can actually be mere passing phenomena.
If you would like to take these ideas further and would like to speak to someone at Richmond Borough Mind you will find details of all our services here.