PART II: HOW TO BE WITH YOUR DIFFICULT EMOTIONS
I realized when I sat down to write my column this month that there needed to be a Part II added to last month’s article. My message last month was about the struggle of staying in the present moment to get more joy out of your life. But, what if at the present moment you are experiencing difficult feelings? How and why would you want to stay in the present moment then? Most people’s instinct would be to sound off the siren call of delusion and distract from bad feelings. Frantically, we hit the reset button, start over, go on vacation, get a new boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, shop, eat, have a drink, pop a pill, have more sex, get a new nose. And, at the end of all these frantic actions, we are left confronting the same feeling we were trying to run away from in the first place. Sound familiar? Do you ever say to yourself, how did I end up here again? Before you continue reading, check in with yourself and make sure that you are not being self-critical or self-judgmental. This is not about being right or wrong, those thoughts are not helpful. What is helpful is to get curious about your feelings, not be judgmental. Judgment and criticism don’t hold the possibility of insight and wisdom, but curiosity does. It’s also a clever way to get rid of the judgment because you can’t be curious and judgmental at the same time. If this article would come with instructions it would say: BEFORE READING, PLEASE ABANDON ALL THOUGHTS OF BEING RIGHT OR WRONG AND PROCEED WITH A CURIOUS, OPEN MIND. In my private practice, I often tell my patients that the hard part of therapy is that it’s easy to turn things you learn about yourself into things you’ve done wrong. Having curiosity and self-compassion can cushion the bumpy road of growth and change, yet, it is the most difficult undertaking for most people.
So, let’s take a difficult feeling and see how being mindful can help you be with it in a different way. How about that four letter word we all dread, fear. Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun, says, “Fear is a universal experience. Even the smallest insect feels it. We wade in the tidal pools and put our finger near the soft, open bodies of sea anemones and they close up. Everything spontaneously does that. It’s not a terrible thing that we feel fear when faced with the unknown. It is part of being alive, something we all share.” Sometimes, I think that the obvious fears in our lives are easier to deal with than those that are hidden within us, embedded unconsciously over time. For example, when I was a child growing up in Brooklyn as I turned the doorknob on the front door, excited to go outside and play with my friends, my Mother would shout, “Be careful.” After hearing this year after year, it became unconsciously understood that, “The world is not a safe place, so you’d better be careful.” This is what is called the “unthought known.” Something you know on a gut level, but have never given much thought. This “unthought known,” is like a seed that gets planted into the unconscious and takes root as it grows throughout your life. This negative seed might blossom into not being a risk-taker, playing it safe, having trust issues with people other than family, developing anxiety when you are out of your comfort zone. Working with actors individually and in my audition anxiety groups, they can discover negative past experiences which are retriggered through the audition process. Before entering the audition, you may perceive the casting agent as criticizing and judgmental, waiting for you to fail. Usually these are negative feelings from the past being brought unknowingly into the present. And the truth is that they are just feelings and not facts. But, when past negative experiences get stirred up on such a deep level, it is hard to know the difference. Is the little boy or girl inside you still feeling stuck in old childhood messages, believing that you are not enough?
The best protection you have against becoming imprisoned by your fear and your past is to get to know it very well. Become curious about it, invite it in for a cup of tea rather than running in the other direction from it. The idea here is to look it right in the eye and not fall into the same pattern of thinking about it. This approach could leave you with a new outlook on an old fear. The next time you walk into an audition, you might be able to perceive the casting agent as rooting for you, wanting to see you nail the part. How much easier would it feel to be in a room with someone who is for you and not against you?
Remember the children’s book, “There’s A Nightmare In My Closet”? It’s a story about a little boy who is afraid to go to sleep because he’s afraid there is a monster in his closet. Eventually, he faces the monster only to find out that the monster is more afraid of the little boy than the boy is of him. But, the little boy could’ve spent the rest of his life being afraid of monsters in closets if he hadn’t faced the monster and found out the truth.
There is an acronym that will help you to remember how to be present with your difficult feelings.
R A I N-
Remember emotions are “energy in motion.” They are not lasting or permanent.
Recognize: Become aware of the kind of emotion you are having. Just this simple act of recognizing it can be helpful. Give it a soft mental label like “fear”, “sadness”, “joy”, etc. Okay, this is fear I’m feeling right now. This is my truth in this moment.
Accept: Can you let this emotion be here? Is it ok to have this emotion? See if you can bring some gentle acceptance to it, recognizing all emotions are okay. It’s part of being human.
Investigate: Most importantly, get curious about your emotion. What does it feel like, particularly in your body? Can you feel it in your chest or belly or elsewhere? Does it move or stay the same? Are there accompanying thoughts? Use your mindfulness to experience the emotion in the present moment.
Not Identify: As we go through the above process, we will naturally begin to take this emotion less personally. We will find ourselves not feeling so tossed about by it, but will be able to see it as it is, just an emotion: energy in motion passing through us. The dis-identification process allows us to have a little space from our difficult emotions and we may find more peace and ease.
Give this a try the next time you bump into a difficult emotion. Stop, breathe and remember to let it RAIN on you a little. Rumi’s poem expresses another way to view emotions:
If you’re interested in learning more about mindfulness, or handling your anxiety, visit my website for resources, articles and upcoming groups.
Email me with your questions, and any topics you would like to see addressed in future articles.
Bonnie Katz is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice. One of her specialties is working with artists in the Entertainment Industry. Her skills and training as a psychotherapist and mindful meditator enable her to work with clients in an atmosphere of warmth and understanding. For more information on Bonnie’s psychotherapy practice,visit her website.Follow her on Twitter and Facebook
Conscious Actor articles are not a substitution for professional psychotherapy.