Tag: anger

Understanding Emotion with Mindfulness

Understanding Emotion with Mindfulness

With mindfulness practice, not only are we able to look at and understand our thoughts, but we can also similarly look at and understand our emotion. When we watch the arising of our emotion without judgment, we can learn a lot about how emotion arises and unfolds.  

Some people find that watching our thoughts is more challenging than watching our emotion. This is because thoughts are swift and fleeting. On the other hand, emotion is usually more intense and obvious. So, emotion becomes a useful window into understanding our inner world. 

The Origin of Emotion 

What gives rise to our emotion? Emotion arises with thoughts. These thoughts may be something that we are consciously aware of, or they may be just below our conscious radar, in our subconscious mind. When we observe these thoughts further, we learn that they are not just any thoughts. Specifically, they are thoughts of wanting – wanting things to be in a certain way. They are our desires.  

When we want things to be in a certain way, and we expect to get them in the way we want them, then we feel hopeful. On the other hand, when we want things to be in a certain way, and we expect not to get them in that way, we feel fearful and apprehensive.  

So, both hope and fear are projections of future outcomes.  

It is said that hope is expecting what is desirable to happen, while fear is expecting what is undesirable to happen. Both are almost identical. The only difference is what you choose to focus on. When you focus on the positive, hope arises. When you focus on the negative, fear arises. 

Types of Emotion 

We can group emotion into three categories – positive, negative and neutral. 

A positive emotion is what makes us feel good, pleasant and hopeful. A negative emotion makes us feel bad, unpleasant and fearful. Neutral emotion neither make us feel good nor bad. In general, we do not have a problem with positive or neutral emotion. Our problem is with our negative emotion. Thus, learning to understand and manage our negative emotion is essential to our well-being and happiness. 

The most fundamental of all negative emotion is fear. We can say that fear is the mother of all negative emotion. Fear manifests itself in a great variety of ways. It can give rise to small irritation and frustration. It can also give rise to anger and rage. It is the cause of our anxiety and worry, and our depression. It is the cause of our obsessions and compulsions.  

So, to manage our negative emotion well, we must learn and understand fear. We must be willing to face our fear, befriend it and be totally familiar with it. Only then can we do something about it. If we deny it, or hide it, or push it away, we will not be able to confront it and know it well. We will be denying ourselves a great opportunity for transformation and growth. 

Understanding Fear 

We are often told that fear is an acronym for “false evidence appearing real”. This is a simple, yet accurate description of fear. Why? Because fear is not real. Fear is an illusion. It is a creation of our own mind. This is not to say that danger is not real. Danger may be very real, but fear is still optional.  

Fear arises when we feel threatened – physically or psychologically, or both. When we sense a lack of safety or security, we feel fearful. That is why safety is one of the human needs listed by Abraham Maslow.  

Fear manifests itself in many ways. Fear is mind-made, so it manifests itself as unpleasant sensation of the mind. When it is mild, it may manifest as mild irritation or discomfort, frustration, or a lingering sense of unease. As fear grows, this sense of unease becomes more obvious and troubling. We may even direct it outward, putting the blame on an external person, thing or event. This may show up as anger, or in severe cases, rage or hatred.  

Unmitigated or uncontrolled fear is costly. Psychologically, it is painful and unpleasant.  

We often express fear in unhealthy ways, in the form of anger and hatred, thus damaging or even destroying important relationships and friendships. When we deny fear or suppress it, fear may be expressed physically in the form of physical discomfort, pain and even disease. Fear, or any negative emotion that is not expressed properly in a healthy way is toxic to the body and mind. So, it is important that we learn to express our negative emotion in healthier ways. 

Managing Negative Emotion 

The way to manage any negative emotion, including fear, is to first acknowledge its presence. Do not deny it.  

Denying it or avoiding it only makes it more difficult for us to resolve it. Running away from our problem is never a good solution. We may need to step back once in a while to give ourselves some space to recover or to regain our strength, but we can never avoid a problem indefinitely. At some point, we must find the courage to confront it. 

When we are faced with our negative emotion, there are two options for us. One option is to confront it as if we are going into a fight. Our adrenaline is flowing maximally, our muscles all tensed and ready for a fight. The other option, which is a better one, is to face the negative emotion with compassion. This means we do not go into the confrontation ready for a fight. Instead, we go in with an open mind, with a compassionate mind, with an attitude of learning and understanding the emotion. In this way, we become more relaxed, not tensed. We become more accepting and allowing.  

Often, this second option of facing negative emotion is itself very therapeutic and healing. It allows us to recognize and acknowledge the negative emotion, and to allow its expression. A lot of pent-up energy can be released in this way. 

Pent-up negative emotion needs an outlet, preferably one that is neither harmful to self, nor to others. One simple way to do this is journaling. Journaling offers us a few benefits. Firstly, when we write in a journal, we have time to reflect, analyze and understand our emotion better. Writing it down provides clarity. It is also a gentle way to release the pent-up energy.  

On the other hand, some people may prefer a more overt physical expression. This is especially true if we have pent-up anger or frustration. Some people find it useful to release their tension by doing physical exercises, such as running, boxing or other physically intensive sports. Others release this energy by punching a bag or screaming out loud in a controlled and often private environment. Yet others may benefit from attending workshops that are designed for this very purpose of releasing pent-up energy, guided by an experienced facilitator. 

Best Time

When is the best time to manage emotion? Well, the best time to manage emotion is before it arises, at the point when your thoughts arise. The next best time to manage your emotion is when it first arises, before it gathers momentum, and especially before it explodes out of control.

Let’s use an analogy of the river.

Imagine that you are in a paddle boat that is floating slowly in a calm river. Then you notice that the boat is picking up speed on its own. Now you begin to hear the roar of a waterfall up ahead. At this point, it is easy for you to divert the boat to the bank with your paddle. However, as the boat picks up speed, it becomes harder to do so, and you will reach a point of no return if you leave it too late to divert your boat. When that point is reached, you cannot avoid falling down the waterfall as the momentum of the boat is now too strong for you to fight against.

In the same way, our emotion is like the boat in the river. If we can note its arising early, we can easily manage it. We can change our thoughts, replacing them with something more positive or useful. We can also divert our attention to a different topic, situation, person or event. We can distract ourselves. In this way, we can diffuse our emotion.

If we leave it too late, we may reach a point of no return with our emotion. By then, the inevitable outcome is that the emotion will burst or explode out in the open for all to see. Often, this complicates an already difficult situation.

In this way, mindfulness is an essential and useful tool in managing our emotion as it allows us to be aware of the arising emotion as early as possible.

Summary 

In short, mindfulness is a great tool to help us understand our emotion. It allows us to observe, reflect and analyze our emotion, and to bring about an understanding of how our emotion arises and unfold. It helps us to face our fear, to befriend it and to finally be free of it. 

As Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Fearlessness is not only possible. It is the ultimate bliss.” 

Myths of Forgiveness

Myths of Forgiveness

This article is written by Will Meek, PhD. He is a counseling psychologist in Vancouver, Washington. It appears in Psychology Today.

I found myself inspired this morning by the story of Pierce O’Farrill, who recently survived three gunshot wounds in the Colorado theater tragedy. Only days later, he has extended forgiveness to the gunman. This reminded me of the most incredible story of forgiveness that I have ever heard, which was when members of the Amish community extended forgiveness to a gunman and his family less than a day after he killed many children from their community in a school.

I developed my own model of forgiveness after that, but in the 4 years since, I have noticed a range of misconceptions about forgiveness that are obstacles for my clients. Most of them are ways that our minds and culture bundle other things with forgiveness, rather than seeing it as a process of its own.

These myths include:

1. Forgiving means that what happened was OK

This is the #1 barrier to forgiveness that I encounter with my clients. There is a perception that if we forgive someone, it either lets the person off the hook, or is somehow an indication that what happened was OK. I see these as separate processes: a) an understanding that the act was not OK and that the person remains accountable, and b) a process of forgiveness that happens in parallel.

2. If I forgive, it might happen to me again

For people that have experienced something traumatic, one of the adjustments afterward is often a vigilant stance of self-protection to avoid being a victim again. For some people with these experiences, the anger, pain, and anxiety related to the event, operate as fuel to help remain on guard. Through counseling, many people can develop new ways to protect themselves physically and emotionally, which allows for a forgiveness process to begin without the fear of being harmed again.

3. I need to “forgive and forget”

This is a common phrase I hear for people that want to begin working on forgiveness. However, if we forget what happened, we can also lose the learning that came from the experience. Therefore, I usually advocate more for “forgive and remember”.

4. If I forgive, it means I have to reconcile with the person

When we are harmed in a relationship and have taken steps to distance ourselves, forgiving the person does not mean we have to go back. If we ultimately want to return to the relationship, forgiveness can help it be successful, but if you are done with it, you can forgive and still choose it to be over.

5. If I don’t forgive, then I am a bad person

Some people feel a pressure to forgive even the most terrible acts due to pressure from others and a belief that being unforgiving makes you a “bad person.” My view is that we are never required to forgive someone to be a “good person”, although many good people do work to forgive others. Instead, I see forgiveness as simply an option we have when we are looking for peace and healing.

6. After I forgive, I will never feel angry or hurt about it again

This final myth is one that can eventually be true after some time. Going back to the Amish school shooting story, I could not comprehend how quickly the victim’s families were able to change their feelings, especially in contrast to the broader culture that tolerates (or even promotes) revenge, and my own beliefs about how enraged and destroyed I would feel if someone I cared about was killed. It wasn’t until a few years later that I saw a film about the tragedy, and the father of one of the victims clarified that he is often thrown back into anger and pain, but works for “forgiveness everyday”.

I think forgiveness can represent the best of what we are capable of as humans, and can be a fitting balance to something horrific, but we have to be ready for it.

 

In a Moment of Anger

In a Moment of Anger

Being able to manage our emotion well is crucial to our health as well as our ability to foster healthy relationships with others, particularly our loved ones.

Recent studies have revealed that the state of our emotional well-being plays an important role in our physical health. For instance, people who are depressed are at a higher risk of a heart attack, and those who have experienced a traumatic event are more likely to report poor physical health, often complaining of tiredness, loss of energy, bodyache and other vague physical symptoms.

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