Author: Tiffany Le GPsyN
Emotions are a normal part of the human experience. When we feel emotions, we are reminded that we are human. Some people may refer to emotions as an inconvenience, while others may view them as a means of survival and decision-making. You can avoid, numb, and downplay your emotions, but the one thing you can’t do is make them disappear completely. Committing to recovery for your eating disorder may trigger difficult emotions to arise – ones that you may have never faced before. If you are unfamiliar with feeling your feelings, these emotions can influence your body to go into either a hyperarousal or hypoarousal state. When you are experiencing hyperarousal, your body is telling you that it wants to fight or run away, and your emotions begin to take over your actions. Meanwhile, when you are experiencing hypoarousal, your body is telling you to shut-down, zone-out, or dissociate altogether. Both states can act as a barrier to being able to address your emotions effectively.
When you catch yourself inflicting judgment upon your emotions, you can refer to these following strategies to help you pause, assess, interrupt your critical mind, and channel your compassionate mind.
1. Examine whether your emotions are a real or perceived threat. If you are unfamiliar with sitting with your emotions, any ounce of emotion can feel overly intense or unmanageable. Once you get used to creating space for your emotions and letting go of needing to find a “why” for them, you will begin to recognize that they are less harmful and more beneficial than you had originally thought.
2. Foreshadow the consequences of disregarding your emotions. Being selective with emotions and choosing to only ignore the difficult ones can decrease your capacity to feel the more euphoric ones as well. Honoring and validating your emotions (even the less favorable ones) can act as a means of self-soothing and prevent you from needing to seek validation for how you feel from others, as this isn’t always readily available.
3. Reflect on how you would respond to a loved one who is feeling the same emotions as you are. Similar to gaining practice with self-compassion, it may be helpful to think about how you would respond to your friends, family, and loved ones when witnessing them display emotions. Even if you don’t know what the “right” thing is to say in these moments, chances are, you would be willing to listen. Now try listening to what your emotions are telling you when they come up, such as whether you are satisfied with certain aspects of your life.
4. Ask yourself what valuable information can come from your emotions. Emotions can sometimes act as a moral compass for us to explore what might be going on beneath the surface. You may feel emotions that you aren’t able to articulate through words which is why emotions hold such power. Allowing yourself to feel is an example of vulnerability – an act that can connect you directly with your inner self.
5. Remind yourself that your emotions are fleeting. It can be easy to get stuck in your emotions, where it feels like what you’re feeling is permanent. You may feel different emotions in the span of seconds. Not to mention, the intensity of your emotions can change in a matter of seconds as well. The goal is to experience all your emotions but prohibit them from defining you.
Recovery can sometimes feel like a full-time job, especially when you are plagued with challenges that you’ve never had to deal with before. With challenges, come emotions, whether it be anger, disappointment, sadness, frustration, etc., emotions are in no doubt part of the recovery process whether you like them or not. You may relate to being in a situation where you feel angry for feeling angry and then fall into the vicious cycle of distancing yourself from your emotions because you don’t feel the right to have them – this can apply to selective emotions or emotions in general. When you respond to emotions with judgment, you leave less room for curiosity and understanding.
There is never a “right” or “wrong” time for emotions to come up, which is why it is important to welcome emotions right when they arise. Investigate what your emotions are trying to tell you – ask yourself what part of them most wants your attention or what your emotions would say if they had a voice. Emotions can also signal when there is an unmet need present – stay curious and explore what this unmet need may be. Once you start to see that your emotions are meant to work with you, rather than against you, you may learn how to better express your wants and needs aloud.