Becoming an empowered woman

Dealing with unruly emotions: Tuning in, not checking out

November 17, 2015
Posted by Karen Strang Allen

My siblings used to call me Oscar the Grouch.

Not because I really was a grouch. Rather, because I used to have spectacular temper tantrums when I was younger. Which my older sister affectionately dubbed “yoga fits.”

My mother would deal with my tantrums by getting mad and spanking me, or ignoring me. Either way, I was left to deal with the erupting emotions on my own, not understanding what I was feeling or having the skills to know how to process my emotions.

I understand now what was causing my temper tantrums. I was a very sensitive child living in a home with a lot of repressed emotions and outbursts of anger. As an empath, I felt everything everyone else felt very deeply. Their anger cut like a knife. I was often the target of my siblings’ tormenting and my mother’s criticism. The feelings of sadness, frustration and powerlessness were overwhelming for me.

Like I was taught by my family, church and school, I tried to push those uncomfortable feelings down and try to “turn the other cheek,” “be the bigger person” and “just ignore it.” That would work for a while…until one day, I couldn’t take it anymore and the pressure cooker would blow.

Enter Oscar the Grouch and the yoga fit.

Despite what my mother thought, I was not acting out because I was trying to get my way. I was losing my cool because I had had enough. I was angry, sad and lonely. I felt unloved and misunderstood. And I didn’t know what to do about it, or how to feel better on my own. My tantrums were a cry for help.

As is often the case, this pattern repeated itself in my romantic relationships. Often, I would feel misunderstood. My partners would brush me off or say things to shut my feelings down. I would get frustrated and feel like screaming, “Why won’t you just listen to me?!”

What I didn’t realize was that the person not listening was me.

Living in a pressure cooker

Many of us did not grow up in families who knew how to process and manage emotions well (or even at all). We did not receive the validation, mirroring and comfort we needed to understand what we were feeling and learn to regulate our emotions.

Instead, we were taught to supress our emotions…to pretend we’re not feeling what we’re feeling for the sake of others, and never admit when we’re hurting, angry or scared. Our society teaches us that being “emotional” is bad. Being “rational” is good. But the truth is that we need both.

Have you ever left a pot boiling on the stove, and had it boil over? Or had it boil dry? That is what happens when we “put a lid on it” when it comes to our emotions. Either the pressure builds until our emotions boil over and make a big, frothy mess. Or our pot boils dry and we feel burnt out and empty from the effort it takes to deny our innermost feelings.

Repressing emotions is very unhealthy. It causes all sorts of health problems:

  • repressed fear – bowel problems, ulcers, anxiety disorders, panic attacks, OCD
  • repressed sadness/powerlessness – throat infections, asthma, depression, cancer
  • repressed frustration/anger – shoulder/neck problems, high blood pressure, heart disease

It causes addictions, like:

  • watching too much TV
  • spending too much time texting or on the computer
  • working too much/being too “busy”
  • eating too much food
  • abusing drugs, alcohol, sex or gambling

And it causes social problems:

  • hampering authentic social interaction (no one knows the real you)
  • preventing real intimacy with partners (your partner can’t tell how you feel)
  • pushing people away when repressed emotions eventually explode out (usually in a very untimely and not-so-pretty way)

Being emotional has gotten a bad rap in our society. It’s not our emotions that are the problem. (We were given them for a reason.) It’s our expression of (or more often, repression of) them that gets us into trouble.

You see, your emotions are like an unruly child. The more you try to ignore what you are feeling, the louder they get. It may start as a lesser feeling, but if you deny your feelings, it will build and become something bigger. Until the pot boils over and Oscar shows up. Or the pot boils dry and you become ill.

Or you finally pay attention and listen.

Tuning in to your own frequency

“Pain is part of life, and we can’t avoid it by resisting it. We can only minimize it by accepting it and dealing with it well.” –Lori Deschene,

E-motions are nothing to be afraid of. They are simply “energy in motion.” They begin with a thought, progress through a physical sensation, and typically lead to an action.

Emotions tell us how things are going in our lives. They act like a GPS, letting us know where we are relative to where we want to be. The closer your thoughts/actions/experiences are to what your soul wants for you, the better you feel.

Psychologists disagree over how many primary emotions there are. Ekman and Friesen (1978) said six. More recent research by Jack et al. (2014) suggests there are only four. I am going to split the difference and say five:

  1. Love
  2. Happiness
  3. Sadness
  4. Anger
  5. Fear

You could even boil these down further, into two basic feelings: feeling good, and feeling bad. There are, of course, many other feelings you can have, but these are the core emotions those feelings relate back to.

We are hard-wired as humans to seek pleasure and avoid pain. So it makes sense that we all want what’s behind doors #1–2, and want to avoid what’s behind doors 3–5.

But that’s not how life works. Life gives us experiences that allow us to feel all of our emotions, even the so-called “negative” ones. Which really aren’t that negative at all, if we allow the energy to move through us, as it’s supposed to.

Each emotion serves an important purpose.

As the movie Inside Out has taught us, each emotion serves an important purpose:

  1. Love – connects us with others and allows us to share life together
  2. Happiness – lets us have fun and fully experience the goodness life has to offer
  3. Sadness – allows us to release pain and ask for help
  4. Anger – helps us set boundaries and take action
  5. Fear – helps us be wary and protect ourselves from harm

Researchers now believe that emotional intelligence (EIQ) is more important in determining success in life than measurements of cognitive intelligence (IQ). High emotional intelligence allows you to:

  • regulate your emotions well
  • handle challenges without excessive stress and fear
  • avoid over-reacting to situations

“If you have a low EIQ, you might be oversensitive to other people’s feelings in response to you; obsess about problems until you find a concrete solution; and frequently feel a tsunami of emotions that you can’t attribute to a specific life event. Or in other words, you may feel bad more often than you feel good.” –Lori Deschene, Tiny Buddha

If you need a little help processing your emotions and increasing your EIQ, don’t worry—most people do.

It’s important to realize that one reason why you struggle with “negative” emotions is you weren’t taught how to handle them as a child (don’t be mad at your parents…they weren’t either). Another reason is that the animal part of your brain panics and thinks you’re going to die if you feel these emotions (because back in your caveman days, feeling pain or fear were often signs of imminent death).

The good news is, it’s never too late to learn to process and regulate your emotions. As much as you may be avoiding them, nobody dies from overwhelming emotions. Once you tune into your own energetic frequency and discover what your emotions are telling you, you will feel much better and be better able to consciously choose a solution (instead of staying stuck or reacting unconsciously and lashing out).

1. What do you feel?

“Openness to the slings and arrows of life means letting pain be all that it is, without exacerbating it by judging it, or reacting to it by trying to reject its presence in your experience.” –Scott E. Spradlin, Don’t Let Emotions Run Your Life

Learning to recognize and acknowledge your feelings early on helps keep them from building up. And like anything, with practice you’ll get better and better at doing this.

Each day, as often as possible, check in with yourself and notice how you’re feeling. (You can even set a time for once an hour.) If you’re feeling a strong emotion, stop whatever you are doing and do the following:

  1. Name what you are feeling without judging (anger, sadness, frustration, fear, jealousy, etc.).
  2. Notice where the feeling is in your body.
  3. Sit and allow the feeling to be there. (Feelings rarely last longer than a few minutes if we allow them to be and pass through us.)
  4. Pretend you are talking to your inner child, and acknowledge what you’re feeling. (Say, “I hear you. I understand you are feeling xyz. It makes sense that you feel this way. It’s going to be ok.”)

This is already probably the most you’ve ever listened to yourself. You may already feel your body relaxing.

2. Why do you feel this way?

“Many pains run deeper than you might think, and require extra work to uncover and heal. If we don’t go deep enough, they will arise again and again…” –Albert,

At this point, it’s important not to act on what you are feeling. Your feeling will pass if you let it. You do not need to act on what you feel. You may choose to eventually, but it’s best to wait until you understand why you feel the way you do, and act consciously instead of reacting.

It’s also important to own what you are feeling and not project it onto someone else. Even if you perceive that someone else is causing you pain, your real suffering comes from how you interpret the event, not from what someone else actually does. (Would someone saying you are selfish really hurt you if you knew deep inside you weren’t? Would someone rejecting you hurt if you knew you were truly lovable?)

How you feel is uniquely about you. It’s a reflection of how you think about yourself and how you believe the world works. Someone else in the same situation might feel very differently. So the cause and effect is likely not what you think it is.

So grab a pen and paper, and go deeper to find out what’s really going on. Ask your inner child a series of questions, and journal the answers.

  • Why do you feel this way?
  • What is hurting you?
  • What are you afraid of?
  • What are you ashamed of?
  • What does this event remind you of? (List all related memories.)
  • What would you have to think/believe to feel this way? (e.g. That you’re not good enough, not lovable, too xzy. That the world is unsafe. That people are mean. That you’ll never get what you want. That you’ll die an old maid.)

Keep writing until you run out of things to say. If you do this until you’re finished, you will already feel relief (simply because you’ve acknowledged how you feel and now understand why).

You will likely discover that while your feelings appeared to be caused by another person, the source always comes back to you. (No one can make you feel anything.) The great thing about this is, if you’re the source, you’re also the solution.

3. What do you want to feel?

“Acceptance lets you properly and accurately diagnose what is going on around you, and only when you accept in this way can you truly choose intentional and effective responses to your life.” –Scott E. Spradlin, Don’t Let Emotions Run Your Life

Now it’s time to help yourself feel better. To begin, you need to understand what you really want.

Again, picture you are talking to yourself as a child, and journal the answers to these questions:

  • What do you want to feel instead?
  • What would help you feel better?
  • What do you need? (Try to respond to your inner child’s need, if possible.)

4. How can you look at things differently?

“Like the tides of the ocean, emotions ebb and flow, they come and go; they’re transitory. This is important to remember when you find yourself in an emotional maelstrom.” –Scott E. Spradlin, Don’t Let Emotions Run Your Life

Once you’ve identified what you’re really wanting, you can shift your perspective and find a way to look at the situation that feels more empowering. The way to change how you feel isn’t by trying to control, suppress or deny your feelings. It’s by changing the thought/belief that led to the emotion in the first place, and focusing on better feeling thoughts.

Take a step back from the movie replaying in your mind, and imagine that your older, wiser self is watching this scene as a third person. Ask your older, wiser self these questions:

  • What is really happening in this situation?
  • What is each person likely feeling?
  • What is another way to look at this situation that feels better?
  • What could help resolve this situation?

5. What do you want to do now?

“Negative emotions like loneliness, envy, and guilt have an important role to play in a happy life; they’re big, flashing signs that something needs to change.” –Gretchen Rubin

Now you are ready to look for solutions. Return to your present-day adult self, and consider your options:

  1. Do nothing. (Sometimes acknowledging and processing our own feelings is enough.)
  2. Remove yourself from the situation.
  3. Voice your feelings and ask for what you need. (See Speak your truth: The healthy expression of emotions for more help with this.)
  4. Do something to change the situation.
  5. Change your attitude/thoughts about the situation.

Act consciously to create the result you want

If you’re still feeling agitated, take some time before acting. Do something physical (go for a run or walk). Do something enjoyable to shift your energy. Meditate or sleep on it.

Once you feel calm, choose what you want to do (or not do). If you are making an empowered choice from your spirit, you will feel relaxed, calm, peaceful. Like happy Oscar. If you are not feeling this way yet, continue working on the steps above until you do. Always act from a place of calm and inspiration.

Once you practice these steps and realize you can regulate your emotions by acknowledging how you feel, understanding the true cause, and then changing your perspective, you will feel much more in control of your life. You will be able to choose your thoughts and actions consciously, instead of reacting impulsively. Your relationships with others will improve, and more importantly, so will your relationship with yourself.

Learning these techniques takes time, so be patient with yourself. And if you feel you need help processing your emotions, contact a counsellor or life coach. If you would like to work with me, learn more about my coaching style and book a free consult to see if we’re a good fit!

If you liked this post, please share with others so they can benefit too! And share your thoughts and ideas below…I love hearing from my readers!



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About the author

Karen Strang Allen

Karen is a love and empowerment coach for single women. Widowed at 22 and separated at 35, Karen’s mission is to help single women feel great about who they are and create a life they love so they attract their dream partner. 

Learn More about Karen