Let’s face it, most people are uncomfortable with strong emotion- be it anger, sadness, negativity, fear, passion and even love often scares people. As a result, many will go to great lengths to avoid being confronted with emotion in themselves, or in others. They are then surprised when they witness violent outbreaks, pandemics of depression, suicide, drug abuse, mystery illnesses or even homelessness.
Emotions are catalysts for growth and change so a potent healing tool is not being used each time an emotion is suppressed. In fact, I believe we are each being invited to learn to honour our emotions for the gifts they truly are. What can you do to allow your emotions to guide you and your loved ones into deeper levels of health and wellness?
Choice to wound or to heal
You each have the capacity to heal or to wound with every word you utter, action you take and thought that goes through your head. (Of course, the recipient also has to make the choice to be healed or hurt). When children are forced to swallow tears, anger, criticism, or sadness for example, feelings of shame are perpetuated where it’s not ok for them to get their needs met by the outside world. When needs are met, children learn to trust and when they trust they can grow into adults that learn to meet their own needs. The reality is that many children, despite well meaning parents, do not learn this lesson in the safety of the family nucleus so they need to learn it as a grown up. It’s never too late to learn this skill.
So how to learn to navigate strong emotions?
The first step is to give yourself permission to feel. Ignoring an emotion or using your will to push it away does not teach you to navigate the emotion, it simply strengthens the wound. When you skillfully navigate an emotion you allow the emotion to lead you to the healing you need. Growth happens when you heal and decay happens when you avoid.
For many, this is no easy task so you may need a loved one to be there to support you through the process- This is where learning to hold sacred space can be very handy. The trick is to become a compassionate, silent witness to whatever emotion is being expressed without allowing yourself to be triggered. If you are holding space for yourself you do this by separating yourself from the emotion. You are not the emotion after all, you are simply experiencing it at this time. You then can become your own personal witness to the emotion you are feeling. By the same token, if you are holding the space for someone else, all you need to do is to compassionately witness their emotion without reacting in any way. You become the mirror that validates their experience. So, for instance if your child is crying inconsolably you can just hold them lovingly in your arms until the crying stops. If your partner is raging you can lovingly hold your ground and let them vent as much as they need to. The key is to not try to stop the flow of emotion, try to fix, argue back or give advice in any way.
Watch out! you may become triggered yourself
What often happens here is that the pain you are trying to hold space for triggers your own pain, and you suddenly find yourself overcome with emotion. When this happens, unless you learn to hold space for your own pain, this emotion will be directed to the person you are trying to support and negate any support (and possibly even deepen their wound).
If you become triggered by your loved ones pain, you can hold the space for yourself by noticing what you are feeling- sadness, anger, frustration or whatever is surfacing for you. Get curious “Ummm, interesting- I wonder why these feelings are coming up for me as I show support for this person.” Accept the feelings without judging them, breathe and allow them to wash over you until the charge is gone.
What I appreciate most about this process is how we can each heal each other – Teacher/ student, parent/child, therapist/patient…. The limiting belief that certain people, by virtue of the role they play, are more entitled than others to heal or to teach is just not correct.
Notice the shaming statements you perhaps experienced by a teacher or a family member when you were growing up and probably even used yourself at some point: “Stop crying! Don’t be a baby! Crying is for sissies! Stop manipulating me! Stop making me feel guilty! “You may have some others to add here. As you bring your awareness to these memories, hold space for yourself and enjoy some gentle healing.
Visualize your sacred healing space
When I hold space for others or myself, I like to visualize a bubble that fills up with the emotion and then when the emotion has been fully expressed and the charge is gone the bubble vanishes. You could also visualize a mirror, a container, a body of water or anything that makes sense to you. Simply setting an intention does the job too if visualization is not your thing. There is no right or wrong way to do this. A genuine desire to support a loved one in pain is all it takes to get the ball rolling. When you “hold space” for someone the space suddenly turns into a healing space and you become a healer. This healing space then becomes a “sacred healing space” when this space moves you one step closer to remembering the wholeness you are, have always been and will always be.
Nicole Rolland is the author of “Stepping into Consciousness- A Guide to Living a Life of Joy, Meaning, and Abundance” and the owner of Nicole Rolland Yoga & Meditation (NRYM)