Recently I was working with a client who was feeling flat and stuck. He had lost passion for his work, and was trying to pinpoint what was wrong. But all external indicators of success and happiness were green light go. He had a good relationship, a successful career and plenty of money. I had learned from my own emotional work that a bias towards action, and accumulating outer displays of success, can be a symptom of avoiding trapped emotional energy. Chasing money, fame or the next big challenge, and yet feeling stuck, unfulfilled and numb, is a sign of running away from uncomfortable emotions.
The work with this client was about slowing down and balancing action with acceptance. Acceptance of what is arising, as it is arising, leads to deep emotional awareness. Avoiding painful emotions keeps them trapped, ensuring that they will always be there to run from. The moment the emotion is triggered, the reaction is to run from it with some form of activity. That can be picking up the i-phone and checking social media or the news, working out, eating or having a drink or a smoke. Or it can be through work. Planning the next big thing that will prove how successful you are… all while you feel numb and lost deep down inside.
When I teach Navy SEALs how to develop grit, or emotional resiliency, they find that suppressing emotions to focus on the mission is the easy part. We use the metaphor of the mighty Oak versus the thin reed. In a Tsunami, which would you rather be? Of course you would want to be the reed, which would bend with the wave and bounce back. The mighty Oak would be swept away. That means that controlling emotions is good for task focusing, but not good for long term resiliency. For that you also need to develop awareness of stuck emotions from the traumas of life, and cultivate acceptance so that the emotional energy can be released. I have learned that there is an expiration date on ignoring suppressed emotions, eventually they will cause that sensation of quiet desperation. Becoming aware of the stuck emotions that were holding me back from my own authenticity was a huge breakthrough. It is one of the most critical obstacles to overcome in order to live and lead authentically. A warrior must maintain control in the fight, but know how to set the armor down, accept what is, and let the emotional energy flow.
How do you learn to set the armor down? First, it is important to acknowledge that emotions are a crucial aspect of the human experience. Passion for something or someone occurs when head and heart are aligned. If your head is in the game, but you aren’t “feeling it,” then you are disconnected from positive emotional energy. So you feel stuck. This stuck feeling arises because you are either focused on the wrong thing and suppressing the emotions that are telling you that. Or, you are focused on the right thing, but have unaddressed emotional energy that makes you feel guilt, shame, or fear. These emotions, whether positive or unwanted, act as our internal compass, pointing us toward positive, creative expression and away from things and people that don’t serve us.
As you become more aware and accepting of your emotional inner life, you begin to find stability and grace. Stability means having the ability to experience your feelings without being overwhelmed by them, or reacting negatively as a result of them. You can allow yourself to just be in the flow of life, inclusive of the profoundly valuable emotional energy. Accept what is without judgment, or the need to suppress the energy. Emotional stability allows you to regulate negative emotions, reframe things positively, and take decisive action to avoid getting stuck.
The best tool for emotional awareness and regulation is free… just breathe! Anchor your awareness to the present moment with the breath to allow the emotions to be experienced. Use the breath to help move the energy, then regulate, shift, or anchor in the emotional depending on the circumstances. The positive emotions you will anchor to fuel passion. The not-so-good emotions you will let move through but not overwhelm you. This is because the breath acts as an arousal control tool, and gives you the calm mind to reframe the situation positively.
Resilience is 50% mental toughness, and 50% about mastering your emotions. Committing to this work is crucial for living an integrated life. Suppressing or avoiding uncomfortable emotions will eventually get you stuck. Accepting and managing emotions will lead to a richer and more authentic life. This is both a challenging and rewarding path, one that invariably leads towards greater self-awareness and inner peace. Each step you take on this journey is a step closer to living as an integrated, whole person. Stuck emotions are not to be ignored or shut off any longer. See them as important internal guidance system signals to be interpreted and put to positive use.