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5 Simple Steps to Process Emotion and Thrive

by | Feb 8, 2021 | Latest Articles | 0 comments

We live in a noisy, distracted culture that has medicalized pain and pathologized emotion. And it is killing us.

We are centuries into a belief system that would have us separate emotional experiences from physical symptoms, mental and emotional health from our physical health, trauma from social functioning, the biological and neurological reality of emotion from illness and disease. We have compartmentalized our health. And it is killing us.

The little known truth is that emotion is built into the structure of our anatomy. Emotion is a biological response to stimuli and a vital part of our survival. We cannot thrive without emotion.

We also cannot connect without emotion. And, as we as a culture are slowly learning, we cannot thrive without connection. We are a relational species. We derive meaning, purpose, joy, hope and physical health from our connections. Connection is one of our most basic human needs.

So how do we shift this? How do we build a new foundation of whole health: health of body, mind, heart and soul?

We begin with the foundational truth that emotion is a natural, healthy part of life as a human. Emotion has a purpose. Emotion exists to protect and connect us. Emotion is a messenger of need.

Then we learn how to follow the energy- our own and others’. Emotion is energy. Thus the “motion” in emotion. Emotion is meant to propel us into action, into motion. When a surge of emotion is released into our body, we must act. We can do this with five steps:

deep breaths

compassionate touch

speaking the emotion (name the pain)

physical movement

meeting the need.

These five steps of moving the emotion through our body are important because when emotion gets trapped it uses resources that we need for other biological processes, including our immune system and cognitive functioning. In this way, trapped emotion makes us sick and tired, less focused, less able to problem solve and make decisions, less able to live to our potential as creative, compassionate, connected people. We are a less healthy, less functional version of ourselves when we live with trapped emotion in our bodies.

We cannot eliminate emotion, we must not eliminate emotion. Emotion is vital to our survival and well being. Our job, our responsibility, is to process our emotion. And we can help those around us process their emotion by following their energy. We do this by actively hearing them without judging, criticizing, minimizing, punishing or even trying to encourage, reassure or compliment them out of their emotion. We just hold space for them, see them, hear them, regard them.

Here is one example of that from my week:

One of my children woke up with a sad disposition this morning. They cried. They stomped. They collapsed onto the couch several times. I felt overwhelmed by their sadness and I left them to self-regulate for a few minutes. But then I remembered what I know.

We stepped outside together. We took three giant deep breaths of the cold winter air. Then we sat on the couch together. I pulled them into my body. Wrapped an arm firmly around them. Massaged their scalp. And asked them to say what they were experiencing. They cried. Named their pain. And relaxed into my embrace. I helped them find something to eat (met the need) and we got out the door on time and without the guilt and shame I get hit with when I disconnect from them by yelling or criticizing or moving away from them when they are in pain.

Motherhood is hard no matter how you slice it. Life is hard no matter who you are. But there are tools that really do make it all more manageable. I am so grateful to have learned some of those tools.

These tools are available to us all. May this be the year we wield them.

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