There’s nothing wrong with feeling strong emotions; anger, frustration, fear, it’s all part of life. But it can be extremely uncomfortable while we are in it, and often we try to push it down or ignore it.
Have you noticed? It doesn’t REALLY go away, it just hangs around in the deep, dark depths waiting to re-surface when you least expect it.
This is a powerful technique for being with strong emotions that Yvonne Hilsz taught me, something I’ve been teaching to my oldest boy as well.
I’m always surprised by how effective it is, yet so simple.
Yvonne calls it the Core Technique, for helping to get to the core of what you’re feeling, and allowing that to pass/dissolve/be released. When you’re feeling a strong, even overwhelming emotion, this method can literally dissolve those intense feelings by letting them pass through you. I’ve done it a few times with Felix when he’s feeling receptive, for kids it seems super-quick to shift the strong emotions that they have so much trouble dealing with.
Here’s how I like to do it, which is slightly different to the way Yvonne showed me, I’ve interspersed her way with mine. I believe it’s something you probably need to personalise a bit depending on how you visualise, and finding a way that works for you.
Some people find words more effective than visualising images, if you meditate you will probably know which works for you. I didn’t used to be able to visualise in mediation very well, but I’ve found that changing the more I’ve meditated.
Let’s use the example of intense anger. You want to be sitting or lying somewhere quiet, where you won’t be disturbed for 10 minutes or so, hide out in the bathroom if you need to!
I imagine myself standing on a rock looking down on a swirling pool. The swirling is all the emotions and feelings you’re experiencing. Yvonne talks about visualising yourself parachuting through a cyclone, I like the pool. It might be a pool of water, it might be swirling dark clouds. I focus on the feeling and dive in.
I really concentrate on the feeling in my body, where is the anger? Is it a tightness in my chest, a lump in my throat, a knot in my stomach, maybe a headache? I put all my attention there, just feeling it. This is the difference here; many times we will try to distract ourselves from these feelings instead of just stopping and facing them head-on.
To really bring the feeling up strongly I will also describe it to myself in words, I might say phrases that make me feel it, like repeating negative comments from someone, or those negative inner comments that go through your head. This helps me to really feel and locate the emotion. If you’re not a strong visualiser, words will likely be more effective for you too.
Now just keep focusing in on that area/feeling. Breathe deeply. Don’t get distracted by repeating the whole story to yourself, you want to stay focused on the emotions, not the he said/she said/I said of the “story”. Just concentrate on key words/phrases and take breaks from that to just FEEL where it is in your body. It might move.
Yvonne talks about really pushing deep into the feeling, don’t shy away from it, the emotions can feel really strong but remind yourself it’s safe to keep going. Visualise moving through the clouds, the cyclone, the pool, whatever you are seeing. Watch yourself physically moving through to the eye of the storm, to safety, to lightness.
You will notice after a while that the physical feeling eases. If you try saying the phrases or words that made the anger flare, you will find that you feel nothing. It can be really gradual and subtle. Keep checking in. If you still feel some emotion, then you need to keep going, you’re not there yet. You want to reach a point where the feeling is completely gone.
Although it can seem like forever, I usually find it only really takes a short while, maybe 5-10 minutes. Often it’s only a couple of minutes.
Keep breathing deeply. Once the feelings are gone, enjoy the calmness and quiet for a few minutes. When you feel ready, open your eyes.
Often after doing this exercise I won’t even be able to remember how intense the feeling was, or what had caused it. It’s just… gone. Clearing your emotions in this way leaves room for peace, calm, and lighter feelings.
As you practice this more and more you may be able to achieve the same result with your eyes open, with other people around. I’m not there yet. I like to find a quiet place and be alone. Sometimes you might even cry, if that is what needs to happen for the release.
When we don’t fully experience our feelings in the moment, they can build up, until they have to be released somehow – often in an angry, or emotional outburst, which can seemingly be triggered by “nothing”. It’s a really valuable tool to teach kids, we often try to make them repress their feelings and then wonder why the outbursts happen. (Also for Mums, I know I have been prone to distracting myself and then shouting at someone later, much to my dismay – but it WILL come out somehow!)
Have you ever told your kids to snap out of their “mood”, or to stop crying, or to stop being angry? I think we do that pretty commonly, that’s often the way we were taught to “deal” with our feelings.
Only it’s not dealing with the feelings, it’s pushing them down, or away. And that’s not going to serve them well as teenagers and adults.