The research is clear. The only healthy way to manage necessary negative emotions (i.e. the external “bad” stuff like the death of a loved one, job or relationship loss, or significant disappointment) is to let those emotions in.You must let yourself fully feel and experience them.
Last time we talked about journaling to heal, this week we’ll focus on a simple and proven way that we can comfort ourselves while we work through these emotions. We’ll be using a self-compassion meditation called Soften, Soothe and Allow.
How It Works:
The Soften, Soothe and Allow tool comes from two top researchers in the field of self-compassion research – Dr. Kristin Neff from the University of Texas at Austin and Dr. Christopher Germer from Harvard. The short version: get mindful of where in the body you feel the emotion, soften the area around it, soothe yourself as you go through the difficulty and allow those feelings and those emotions to be there.
This tool does several things that can help you work through this necessary negativity (for a review of necessary vs. gratuitous negativity, click here). First, because your mind is like a single processor, it anchors your focus on the body which pulls energy from the endless “spin-cycle” of rumination. Second, it helps us accept that negative emotions are a part of life.
Third, this meditation helps you become the person in your life who can soothe and calm yourself in trying times. When we are kind to ourselves, Dr. Neff says, “We start to feel cared for, accepted, and secure. We balance the dark energy of negative emotions with the bright energy of love and social connection. These feelings of warmth and safety then deactivate the body’s threat system and activate the attachment system, calming down the amygdala and ramping up the production of oxytocin” which helps put these negative emotions into a bigger perspective. And guess what, you are the one person in your life who is always around when you are feeling down.
This meditation can help you be a great source of comfort in trying times.
How To Do It:
The easiest way to start practicing this meditation is to use one of the guided meditations provided by the original researchers.
The instructions within the meditations themselves are very clear and easy to follow even if you’ve never meditated before. And you don’t need to listen to the entire 15 minutes each time, just a couple minutes can allow in some of the benefits.
There are 3 core components of this meditation (adapted from Dr. Neff’s book, ‘Self-Compassion’ and Dr. Germer’s meditations). You can do these on your own using the text below or use the recorded meditations above.
And if you read this and think it’s some crazy woo-woo, Stuart Smalley-like practice for weird hippies, think of the credentials of the researchers (Harvard? Woo-woo?!?) In fact, I dare you to authentically try it and see whether it works for you.
To begin, sit or lie down with your back on the floor and try to locate the difficult feeling in your body. Where is it centered? Describe the sensations to yourself — tingling, pressure, tightness, sharp stabbing, etc. Does it feel hard and solid or fluid and shifting? Is there a color sound to the sensation? Maybe all you feel is numbness. Bring your attention to whatever sensations you have.
Then try to soften into that location in your body. Let the muscles be soft without forcing them, as if you are applying heat to a sore muscle. Just soften that place in your body. You can say quietly to yourself, “soft, soft, soft” to enhance the process.
Once you are in touch with the painful emotion, send it compassion. Tell yourself how difficult it is to feel right now and let yourself know you are concerned about your own well-being. Try using terms of endearment if it feels comfortable for you, like, “I know this is really difficult, my friend,” or “ I’m sorry you’re in such pain, my dear.” You can softly caress the spot where the painful emotion is lodged, put your hand over your heart or give yourself a soft hug. Reassure yourself that it’s ok, that all will be well, and that you will give yourself the emotional support needed to get through this difficult experience.
Finally, just allow any discomfort to be there. We are so trained to try to suppress unpleasant sensations and push them away. Allow it to stay; experience it for what it is. Go back into what it feels like. Give it space to move and change. Let the discomfort come and go as it pleases. Let go of the wish for the feeling to disappear and at least for now, give it permission to be there.
Whenever you find yourself get carried away thinking about the situation driving your painful feelings, simply bring your awareness back to the physical sensation in your body and start again.
This is what we call an “as needed” intervention. Next time you are feeling a wave of negativity, give this a try. Put the recordings onto your phone so you can access them anywhere. Try it and see. It’s a great way to allow these feelings to work themselves through you.
Eric Karpinski, The Happiness Coach
P.S. To receive these posts directly into your inbox each week, simply sign up in the form on the right hand side of this page. You’ll also receive access to my most recent free webinar on the science of happiness (positive psychology).
P.P.S. I love it when people share these posts on their favorite social media sites. If you want to share this post, click on any of the links below: