Katie McLaughlin, LPC, CCATP
I have had quite a few conversations recently about emotions and emotional pain. Maybe that's a given seeing as I am a therapist,.. but I wanted to point out something important that so many of us overlook.
When we feel emotional pain and it feels like it will never end, it is not necessarily that first emotion that is causing us distress. It definitely could be, don't get me wrong. We humans certainly have the capacity to experience incredibly painful emotions, each of which are valid to experience no matter the circumstances. The aspect of this pain cycle that I want to focus on, though, is our secondary reaction. Even if you don't always catch it when it's happening, I bet you know what I am talking about. It is the judgement we cast on ourselves for feeling a certain way. Here are some examples:
"I have no reason to be upset right now"
"Why am I feeling this way?"
"I bet so-and-so could handle this way better than I am"
"How can I be depressed? My life is so good"
"I have no reason to be anxious. Why can't I stop myself from feeling this way?"
Of course, these statements only scratch the surface of the endless stream of judgement our inner critic enjoys throwing out. This type of secondary reaction often leads to guilt and an even lower mood than we had initially.
So what if we cut off our inner critic, even if only for a few moments, to see what it's like? I understand this is much easier said than done. More often than not, though, when we can simply allow ourselves to feel our first emotional reaction, and to really focus on it without getting caught in judgement, the emotion (and therefore the pain) passes much faster than when we harp on ourselves. I hear this happen time and time again in my work.
There are a variety of approaches to practice this. One of which is intentionally practicing being kind to yourself. While this may seem like a foreign concept, one way to ease into this is to respond to yourself in the way you would respond to your closest friend or a loved one who you respect. You can find a wonderful guide to this particular practice by the world renowned Self-Compassion expert, Kristin Neff. Her work is truly revolutionary. Click here to check it out.
Another way to cut off our inner critic is to focus solely on the experience of the initial emotion. To become curious about it. I recently uploaded a podcast episode on this very topic. You can find that here if you are interested.
I hope these practices help you find a bit more peace as you go about your day.