Research is proving beyond a reasonable doubt that staying stuck in negative emotions can seriously affect our health, our relationships, and our work. We have an epidemic of anger, depression, and anxiety in our culture. Negativity in the everyday often plays out in incredibly subtle ways; sometimes we don’t even realize how long we have been repeating a negative story about a situation or person in our life.
We’re taught to hold on dearly to toxic, negative emotions, and worse- that it’s others that are controlling our pain (and joy).
Nevertheless, there is a growing cultural dialogue about “moving through” negativity in our lives, and this is a key phrase to pay attention to. We are realizing (or remembering) that pushing negative emotions aside or down stunts the seed and breeds resentment, self-pity, and a fundamentally pessimistic world view. People are hard on themselves and each other, and then hard on themselves for being hard on everyone! Wtf, as they say.
The other extreme is a tendency to coast right over negative emotions or tricky pockets of life. This sets us up to be constantly caught-off-guard (think Disney princess shocked that wolves are chasing her or that prince charming doesn’t validate her needs). This injured-instinct relationship with our emotional lives eventually leads to rage. It also can lead to a kind of base-anxiety, a pervasive feeling of unease about our life.
Any of these tendencies are unaccaeptable, because life is beautiful in all its messiness and even stress.
We aren’t here for a merely mediocre or exhaustively stressful life experience. We are here to feel as much joy and forgiveness and frankly, spiritual growth- however you define that- as we possibly can.
Not someday, not “as soon as I [fill in the blank]” but moment by moment.
I looked to the future for a very long time for happiness. But, thanks largely to my son and a desire to work through surpisingly challenging negotiations and pain points with the love of my life, I have come to believe (even if I still get it wrong often enough) that the moment is the opportunity for happiness, for experience, for true growth: this one, the next one … every damn day, year by year.
So how, exactly, do we move through negative emotions in real time? As. Life. Happens?
You’ve got to feel it to heal it. It’s literally the only way. And there’s an incredibly effective technique you can use every time you’re experiencing a strong, negative emotion. It will pretty much never fail you if you commit to it wholeheartedly. All you need to do is have a sincere desire to feel better. That’s it.
This technique appeared instinctually to me, in a real moment of need. I share that with you because the truth is, when it comes to solving any of your problems, you already have everything you need. We help each other not to solve problems, but to heal our relationship with our inner self so that we can know how to solve them ourselves.
That said, perhaps this triggers a similar exercise more befitting to you, or maybe this one really speaks to you. Either way, the point is, when it comes to negative emotions, reactions, and difficult situations in your life: honor your feelings, own them, and trust their messages.
Generally this exercise is done after an incident or encounter. You may need to remove yourself from a situation to go and do this.
The Tunnel to Love Method
- When you notice that you are feeling a strong, negative emotion, first notice what the emotion is. Do your best to name it. Is it anger, rage, frustration, overwhelm, confusion? Just try your best.
- Close your eyes (or keep them open if that works for you) and imagine you are in a dark, dank tunnel. You are walking through this tunnel, and as long as you are inside of it, you are going to fully experience this emotion, without guilt, without censorship. Vent if you need to- aloud (to yourself or a trusted, uninvolved friend), or in your head. Air your grievances.
- Begin to look around, notice and listen. What are you hearing and seeing? What wants desperately to be heard? Can you find a clear need within all you are feeling? Again, just try your best. What do you need?
- As you are allowing this emotion to fully express itself, start to remind yourself gently that every tunnel, by its very nature, has an end. Begin to see the light at the end of this tunnel you are in. Keep walking.
- The end of the tunnel will begin to get closer, keep moving towards it.
- Imagine at the other end, when you step back into the light, the best version of both yourself and anyone you are feeling emotional about will be there awaiting you. Just envision this. If it helps, say out loud: I see the best version of myself and (insert name) awaiting me up ahead. I know there is a best version to everyone and everything, and I choose to see that now. (Most situations involve people, but if it really is a situation, envision the best outcome up ahead, even if you don’t think it is possible. Imagine everything about the situation that is good).
- In your own time, arrive at the other end of the tunnel to the smiling, incredibly wonderful best version of yourself. Notice how you and anyone else there is just beaming Love at you. Notice the glow and natural joy surrounding you and others when seen in their best possible light.
- As you return to the moment, jot down anything that seems important or you want to remember. See if there is a need or desire you have that has gone unexpressed and unmet. What is your dream outcome from the situation? You should be feeling much more joyful, grateful, forgiving, and clear. If not, try the exercise again.
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Every emotion is instructive. They are never “wrong,” though the judgements and conclusions we come to when we are in certain states can be misguided, and even corrosive.
Emotions themselves, however, should be honored. Too often, we feel guilty about what we’re feeling, especially as women. The trouble is that, in an attempt to protect and strengthen ourselves, we mistakenly stay inside negative emotions far after their usefulness has passed. I have used blame and judgment many, many times trying to protect myself, trying to avoid the difficult work my higher self wants from me. Afraid to express what I truly need.
The truth is, only when we bring a curious, growth mindset to our emotions are they really worth feeling.
Every emotion becomes a part of the dance of life, when you walk it through the tunnel. Every tunnel a useful lesson in resilience and clarity, a chance to discover what we really want.
When we arrive on the other side, able to see what we love in others and ourselves, peacefulness and a very realistic, accepting kind of optimism settles over us. There is great freedom in forgiveness. It’s an act of self-love.
We make our best decisions, reach others on that deep, soulful level, and experience true highs in life from this sacred place of peacefulness. We can solve anything with anyone from this place.
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Please Take Note, Beautiful People: If you’re dealing with trauma, abuse, or suffer from a more challenging mental illness, you must seek professional and personal supports to help you through your journey to healing. As someone who has been diagnosed with depression at multiple crossroads of my life, I can speak from experience when I say: Do not go it alone. Do not waste any time in your incredibly precious life thinking you need to figure this out yourself, or resign yourself to anything less than a joyful existence. XO
Amanda Verdery Young is Bombilore's founder and Editor in Chief. She helps conscious businesses bring their missions to life, online and beyond, through development, content marketing and web design. She lives to explore the far reaches of heart, land, and creativity alongside two wild Aries companions- her husband and son- in Portland, Oregon.