What The Heck Is . . . Emotion & How to Handle Big Feelings?
Updated: Mar 19
Imagine - you've just submitted the application for your dream job. You're totally qualified, sent in some great references and put in a stellar cover letter that demonstrates all the good work you've done for your current job.
You think you should feel a huge sense of relief, maybe even some excitement for what's possible. Instead, you notice that your heart rate is rapid, everything makes you feel a little nauseated and you can't for the life of you get the following thoughts out of your mind:
"You're not good enough for this job"
"Who do you think you are to deserve this opportunity?"
"You look dumb for even applying to this position"
"You're going to fail at this too" . . . and the list goes on and on.
It can be overwhelming to manage difficult and recurring thoughts and, what's more, it can feel near impossible to handle the big feelings and emotions behind them. Read through this post to learn a working definition of emotion and then 5 steps to work through challenging experiences:
In psychology, emotion is often defined as a complex state of feeling that results in physical and psychological changes that influence thought and behavior.
Fundamentals of Working with Big Emotions
As humans, we can come up with many ways to cope with big emotions that either do not work, provide only short-term relief, or that lead to avoidance and loneliness, and inauthenticity. We tear ourselves down, we numb out or abuse substances, we blame others, or we isolate ourselves from any triggering experiences
Often it's not until we hit a wall or rock bottom that we finally ask ourselves:
"What are ways to cope with my [insert painful emotion or feeling here] so that I can live a rich and full life?"
RAINN is a tool largely credited to Michele McDonald from about 20 years ago. This acronym is a prevalent technique used in many areas like emotional regulation, self-study, self-compassion, meditation, etc. Let's take a deeper look into this five step approach to more adaptively and sustainably work with our big feelings.
In the first stage of RAINN, we aim to ground into the present moment. We ask ourselves, "What's going on right now in this moment?"
It is crucial to initially recognize what our experience is before we can even begin to work with or through it.
In this step, many people find it helpful to notice and name the emotions and feelings present. For example, you might say to yourself: "Here is anxiety", "Here is frustration", or "Here is the feeling of tension in my shoulders".
As you work to recognize, notice and name your emotion, consider that there is no such thing as a "bad" emotion. We often fall prey to thinking there are good emotions (i.e. the pleasant ones) and bad emotions (i.e. the unpleasant ones). However, in order to live a full and rich life, it is paramount that we experience the complete range of emotions.
The second stage in this process is to allow emotions to be exactly as they are. Frequently when we feel discomfort, we resist and enact protective mechanisms to avoid experiencing our challenges.
Rather than resisting your emotions and feelings, observe without:
3. Checking out (distraction or numbing)
During the stage of allowance, you may like to have a mantra or anchor to encourage the acceptance of big feelings. For many of my clients, we use and repeat this phrase:
“Right now, it’s like this.”
Know that by allowing your tough experience to be just as it is, you are not resigning to it. You are simply releasing the hook that big feelings can have on you and thus are creating the space to eventually determine how you wish to act moving forward.
Step three is to investigate. In this part, explore the sensations and beliefs present with genuine curiosity and the desire to understand. There are no right answers in this process, so get to know what you're working with.
Ask yourself open ended questions and be gentle with your responses:
Where do you feel vulnerable in your body?
How does this feeling support you?
What does this emotion or part of you need: To be seen, heard, loved, understood?
As you get to better know these parts, feelings, and emotions, you will be able to more efficiently identify and recognize them. In this way, you will have a clearer idea of what challenges you're experiencing and how to offer yourself what you need in the moment.
The second to last stage is to not over identify with your pain or struggle. When we experience something intense, it can feel like the only thing happening our world.
Remember that you are more than the thoughts, emotions, and experiences in your mind.
Nourishment is the final stage in the RAINN process. When you are working with your difficult feelings, be sure to create space to experience the first four steps with kindness.
This is challenging work.
With time and practice, you will grow more aware of emotion you're feeling as it manifests in your embodied experience. From this awareness, you are more empowered to act with kindness and integrity, rather than reacting with maladaptive and harmful behaviors.
My hope is that by sharing this information, you will uncover a deeper understanding of what you feel and how you can work through your big feelings along your healing journey.
If there is anything that I can do to support you or if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to reach out to me HERE.