Processing Difficult Emotions (Part Two)
Updated: Sep 3, 2020
As mentioned in our blog post earlier this week, one of my goals as a therapist is to help clients find a way out of the patterns that aren't working for them.
When it comes to processing difficult emotions, our goal is to:
acknowledge our emotions,
get curious about them,
validate our experience,
and find a way to effectively work *through* difficult emotions.
That's a big order, but it's possible to achieve with practice.
Let it R.A.I.N.
Tara Brach is a psychologist and author of Radical Compassion (which I definitely recommend). Her book outlines a very powerful mindfulness tool for processing difficult emotions, which I've found to be extremely helpful as I guide my clients through emotional experiences.
RAIN is an acronym for:
To RECOGNIZE your emotions means to turn towards the emotional experience. Notice it. Take upon yourself the role of observer. Rather than judging the experience, describe it. Put a name to it. Identify the physical symptoms that accompany the emotion. You're essentially telling the emotion, "Hey, I see you there."
To ALLOW means to acknowledge and accept the emotion, rather than attempting to push it away. It is tempting to avoid painful emotions. We would be much more comfortable running away from the experience, or shoving it down. Allowing doesn't mean we *like* feeling this way, but it is an acceptance of our current state. This is like saying to the emotion, "It's okay that you're here. We'll work through this."
To INVESTIGATE means to dig deeper to better understand the emotion.
Why might you be feeling this way?
What's the worst part of this feeling?
Do any of your core beliefs play into how you're feeling right now?
Is this experience triggering any prior situations you've faced?
Are there any factors that may be exacerbating your feelings (sleep deprivation, hunger, etc)?
This is basically like saying to the emotion, "What do I need to learn from you? Why are you here?"
To NURTURE means to provide yourself with the loving, encouraging, compassionate support you need to work through this painful experience. What allows you to feel nurtured and supported? Send that inward and offer yourself the healing words, touch, or presence that will allow you to move forward. Some people find it helpful to imagine their wise, compassionate future self is offering the healing attention. Nurturing says to that emotion, "I'll tend to you."
Your "homework" for this week is to give this little exercise a try when you notice a feeling that you need to work through. Bonus points for reaching out and sharing your experience with me, as I'd love to hear how it goes!
Carrie Nicholes is a Maryland Board approved Licensed Certified Social Worker - Clinical (LCSW-C) and the founder of Cedar Counseling & Wellness. Recognized as one of the top therapists in Annapolis, she has a lifelong passion for teaching people tools to improve their lives.