What are emotions? And if we understand them better, won’t we be better at accepting them for what they are and letting them exist, and then letting them change…without worrying that the way we feel right now will be the way we feel forever?
Emotions don’t stay the same
Because that’s often the fear, isn’t it? When you feel low, something in you attaches to that feeling, and you think you’re never going to feel better.
You’re never going to be OK. You’re never going to stop hurting from that rejection, or missing that person you’ve lost. You’re never going to stop feeling inadequate or stop feeling like you’ve failed.
But that fear isn’t the truth because…emotions change. They are, by their very nature, transient. Spiritual traditions have known this for thousands of years, and yet lots of us today seem to have forgotten it.
The reality is that emotions don’t stay the same forever (or even for very long), even if you don’t do anything about them at all.
The most intense anger will fade and pass, even if you don’t actively try to make it go away. Heartbreak will ease and lift and drift away over time.
Grief ebbs and flows and shifts into, and out of, intensity. Emotions are never static.
In her book How Emotions Are Made, Lisa Feldman Barrett writes:
“The human brain is a cultural artifact. We don’t load culture into a virgin brain like software loading into a computer; rather, culture helps to wire the brain. Brains then become carriers of culture, helping to create and perpetuate it.”
And emotions are a part of that very cultural brain. The emotions we feel do matter. They matter. But they aren’t really in a very true sense — they’re dictated and affected by the social environments we’ve grown into.
They need respect, time, and talking; they need our care, and it’s important to notice how we’re feeling. But whatever emotion you’re feeling right now; no matter what it is; it will change.
Embrace the transience of emotion
Instead of making us feel like our emotions aren’t important, recognizing and welcoming their transient nature can be liberating.
If you know that emotions change (even if you don’t actively try to change them), you can sit more comfortably with how you’re feeling. You can accept the state you’re in right now, and learn what you need to learn from it, without the fear that you’ll feel this way for the rest of your life.
Your emotions are a part of how you experience the world. But they’re not you.
➤Three ways to teach your brain that emotions always change
When you’re feeling something overwhelming or unsettling or just…bad…you can remind yourself that emotions come, stay for a bit, and move on.
And by doing this, you’ll gradually teach your brain that emotions aren’t something to be feared or pushed away. Instead, they’re experiences to embrace and look closely at and release without fear.
Try these three ways to shift your perspective on emotions while you’re in the midst of them.
1. Be your witness
I know, I talk about witnessing your own experiences and emotions a lot. But it’s important. Imagine you’re up in the sky, looking down on yourself.
You down there on the ground are experiencing the emotion; but you, up here in the sky? You’re just watching. You’re noticing. You’re seeing yourself feeling it, processing it, being with it.
2. Time travel: when did you last not feel like this?
When you feel like you’re stuck in a feeling, go back in time. Take your thoughts back to a moment when you felt very differently — you were in a completely different emotional state.
If you feel hopeless, go back to a time when you felt hopeful. If you feel heartbroken, go back to a time when you felt perfectly comfortable being with yourself.
3. Visualize yourself six months from now
Then go forwards in time. Picture yourself six months from now. Imagine that your emotions are different; you’re feeling different.
Put yourself there, as if it’s real. Feel different. Just like reminding yourself that you’ve felt different in the past, you can remind yourself that you’ll feel different in the future;
and doing this takes away the power of emotion at the moment that tells you this is it, forever.
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