We live in a world where we have made an enemy of negative emotions. We do everything to run away from them. We turn to drugs, addictions, dysfunctional relationships, distractions or compulsive behaviors to avoid feeling negative emotions. What if they are the lead that we can turn into gold if only we knew the alchemical process?
First, there is no mystery why we are behaving this way because we were programmed by our environment to dread negative emotions. As a child, there were some emotions that were not welcomed into our family environment. The type of emotions allowed or punished depends of the family. For example, in my family, anger was not tolerated however sadness was allowed. Then, we go through the process of socialization through school, our workplace and the community we are a part of. Each one has their own set of rules regarding emotions that are acceptable or frown upon. If this was not enough, we act towards ourselves as the most severe judge regarding the emotions we allow ourselves to feel and not feel. Many negative emotions come with stigma and we carry too much shame about ourselves to admit we are feeling them. We make depression mean lost and weak, loneliness mean unlovable, anger mean dangerous so of course, our ego will do anything not to feel them in order protect our imaginary sense of self.
As a result, we have become experts in not feeling negative emotions. Because of the powerless state we live in, we thrive for solutions outside of ourselves while all answers are always from within. The global opioid market is $23 billions while the market of illegal mind altering substances is much higher. All addictions come from the fact we are avoiding to feel difficult emotions. This is well explained by Gabor Mate. According to him “Addiction is not a choice anybody makes, it’s a response to emotional pain”. Many dysfunctional relationship patterns are born because we are irresistibly attracted to partners that can express the emotions we have repressed. I would like to invite you to reflect on your own obsessive behaviors or coping mechanisms you have adopted not to feel. The list is endless for everyone of us.
At the same time, there are valid reasons why the society, and everyone of us have been programmed to be afraid of negative emotions. To be fair, the unconscious expression of negative emotions may be threatening not only to others but also to ourselves. The news are full of reports of homicides that happened in an excess of rage. We hear of people committing suicide when they get too depressed. There are more and more teenagers resolving to cutting when faced with overwhelming emotional pain. For this reason, we are afraid to open the pandora’s box as we get closer to our negative emotions. Actually, the opposite is true. By allowing to feeling our difficult emotions, we release the pressure and therefore reduce their uncontrolled expression.
Feeling emotions is an aspect of being human. A healthy integrated human being reacts to life events with emotions. He experiences anger when his boundaries or sense of values is violated. He experiences sadness when faced with loss. He experiences disappointment when he does not attain his objectives. He feels stressed or anxious when he is under too much pressure and feels overwhelmed. He feels depressed when he has lost meaning and purpose. Negative emotions are like messengers. They act as feedback mechanisms as we go through life. They are guides who help us keep our life in the right direction. They constitute our inner guidance system. There are two prerequisites to be able to use emotions as a life compass: awareness and complete self-honesty. We need to learn to recognize the types of emotions that circulate through our body, and have enough self-confidence to see our flaws without collapsing emotionally.
As the person matures, he understands which environment may be conducive to the free expression of his genuine emotions. Controlled anger may be effective to deal with your teenager that lied to you however anger is unwelcome almost every time in a court of law. So, as a first step, we need to develop awareness in the type of emotions that is arising within our consciousness, and secondly see how much we can safely express them within our current environment. We may feel sad, and if we are in the company of good friends, we know we can cry without feeling judged. Or we may be in a different setting where shedding tears could be interpreted as a sign of weakness or feel threatening to people around us. In this situation, we learn to postpone the conscious expression of negative emotions when we are in a safe place.
I am going to share with you my personal technique of dealing with negative emotions:
I need to feel I have a heavy emotion that require my attention as it is a call for healing and understanding. It should be painful enough that I cannot easily push it aside through positive focus or immersing myself into an activity. On the opposite, it needs to feel that ignoring this feeling will be damaging to our holistic self. This type of emotions should not happen more than a few times in a month unlike I am going through a particularly difficult time in my life. I see some people doing shadow work so often that they forget to enjoy their lives, and develop a new ego centered around their traumas. This is another extreme to avoid. We have to find the right balance between avoidance and complacency. In case of doubt, trust your body sensations in the present moment to make the determination if you need shadow work or not.
2. Setting a time
If you are finding yourself in a safe place where you can isolate yourself, start your shadow work session right away. However, life is busy and we may not be able to deal with these negative emotions right away. Take care of your key priorities first to put your mind to rest and reduce your stress. Find a safe place where you may not be interrupted. Set-up a time in the near future to work on these emotions. Resist the urge to handle your negative emotions with any external quick-fix in the meantime.
3. Shadow work meditation
If I notice that my mind is restless, I will start first with a physical practice to quiet my mind which is a form of stretching and yoga. This helps me to reconnect with the present moment, my breath, my body in order to ground and raise my frequency. Clearing the mind chatter is critical to be able to listen to our higher intuition. Then I take the position of my favorite asana. From my perspective, the most important is to have a straight back while being comfortable to connect more deeply to our emotions, feelings and thought patterns. This works for me because I have been practicing meditation for many years. However, other centering modalities may be more adequate for you. Journaling makes thoughts more visible and tangible so that you may visualize them to facilitate an inner dialog. Some people prefer a walking meditation in nature. The natural harmony of trees, birds, insects, vegetation is helping them finding this inner center.
4. Be your own therapist
The inner work that now takes place will depend upon your own experience as a healer, coach or simply as an introspective person. However there are a few constants I want to share with you that apply to all shadow work. First, you need to sit with the emotions no matter how painful they are. It involves tearing down the protective walls, allowing to feel the negative emotions without judgment, to eventually accepting them as they are. Raw and uncomfortable as they may be, they act as a rope to bring us back to an aspect of your fragmented self that requires healing. There are many techniques available whether you connect with your body sensations, use creative visualization or validate your raw emotions but the overall goal is to go deeper until you have an emotional release such as tears. If you do not get an emotional release, your process has stayed mental and the healing will be very superficial.
Once the emotional release takes place, the healing process shifted from the mind to the body and therefore becomes therefore far more effective. Use breath, body and psychic awareness to help circulate the energy. Show compassion, detachment, loving kindness towards yourself as you experience energy shifting within your body. At that stage, observe without analysis in full presence and deep compassion. The goal is to feel as much as possible. It is about letting go and facilitating the process just like if you were delivering a baby. You are not making things happen, you are watching things happen.
After this stage is done, it is appropriate for mind and intuition to come back and make sense about what happened. What did you learn? What do you need? Did you recover an old trauma? What aspects of you require nurturing? Why were you feeling this way? What actions do you need to take in your life to shift this pattern? What new perspective do you need to adopt to stop suffering?
For example, you may have felt deep loneliness. It may be reminiscent to your childhood being raised by emotionally unavailable parents. You then realize you need to make connection with friends or an intimate partner a priority in your life and not give all your energy to your work. You are deciding to go out to meet new people.
Alternatively, you may be feeling angry towards someone. It reminds you to a situation as a child where you felt trapped. You are deciding to stop the perceived abuse from this person, and hold your personal boundaries. You are not going to acquiesce any more to actions towards you that you see as harmful and unfair.
Sometimes, it takes time to come a new understanding or a new course of action. This is completely fine. It is critical to sit with the feeling as long as necessary and any conclusion cannot be rushed. They should come effortlessly.
Being your own therapist takes practice. Initially, you may want to solicit the help of an outside therapist, facilitator or coach you resonate with as you go through these difficult cycles. Unfortunately, most people are disconnected from their body, feelings and emotions so they may feel overwhelmed at first to lead this healing process on their own. Do not have any shame in requiring compassionate help from a third party. Whether you use a guide or not for this process, you are still the one doing the work. Even the most advanced and compassionate healers cannot do the required healing work without your participation, trust and courage. As you get more experienced, it feels easier and easier to do shadow work on your own. You develop autonomy and the understanding that everything is within you.
Once you master the process of working with your own negative emotions, there are many benefits that will be added into your life.
1. Improved health
The majority of physical illnesses start with an emotional component. By being more in touch with your emotions, you will be able to do the necessary healing before it affects your physical body. You take notice of the early signs of unbalance and misalignment before they make you sick. You stop catching the seasonal flu and your immune system runs as a much higher level. You recover more quickly from life’s inevitable hardships and upheavals.
2. More clarity and sense of purpose
You are never stuck or feeling down for too long. 90% of your life is about creating, connecting and sharing, enjoying and having fun, taking care of yourself and others in a beneficial way. You get more done. You stop resorting to addiction or distractions to fill your inner void. You bring meaning to everything you do.
3. Magical manifestation
As you connect to your heart’s desire through shadow work, the universe hears your silent cry and may start manifesting what you truly desire above your expectations. The woman of your dreams may come into your life or your dream career may materialize. Your business may start developing at rapid speed. Your life mission becomes effortless. A very deep friendship may emerge. Sky is the limit in terms of manifestations. The key is to be truthful, authentic and connect deeply to what you really really while raising above the selfish needs and desires of the ego.
You develop self-knowledge and discernment. You become someone people come to for advice and guidance. You read people easily. You avert danger and perilous situations. You are taking better decisions and actions for everyday life. Every difficulty you face in life brings you more wisdom to live better. You win anyway, whether you were dealt good or bad cards from life.
5. Saving time and money
You find solutions from within, fast and without the need to external paid help. You prevent bad financial deals before they happen. Your inner guidance system is wide awake to make you avoid costly life turns you may regret later on. You feel the potential of opportunities coming your way.
6. Enhanced quality of life
You live life at a much higher level. It is not about getting by or surviving but thriving. You have stopped all life energy leaks such as addictions, dysfunctional relationships or compulsive to live a life that is worth living, full of new adventures and dreams to manifest. You awaken to your true self as you heal yourself through the transmutation of negative emotions.
Work on negative emotions is just as important as being present and disciplining our attention in our journey of awakening and achieving our full potential. While we dread them for they bring us misery, they hold the key to our liberation because of their healing power.