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A better relationship with difficult emotions: Learning from our strengths

April 8, 2009

We all experience difficult feelings. The way we deal with difficult feelings, however, varies widely. For example, one person may deal well with working under pressure but struggle greatly with the loss of a relationship. Another person’s profile may be just the opposite. Having learned to accept loss, grieve, and move forward, person B shuts down when faced with an imminent deadline, a big audition, or tournament play. The good news is, just as we learned to handle certain difficult emotions well, we can learn to handle our more frightful emotions better too.

One of many ways to do this is to look at how we “relate” to our feelings. Using our example, do we welcome pressure as a feeling that can help us focus, work faster, or overcome indecision? Or do we set it up in our minds as an insurmountable enemy? Perhaps the relationship is somewhere in between. When we begin to recognize our relationships vary with different difficult emotions though, we may be able to recruit helpful strategies from our strengths. Let’s get a little more specific…

If we perform our best in the clutch situation, how might that help us deal with loss better? Well, if we see pressure as our teammate, maybe grief can be our teammate too. Grief, for example, can be a great teammate (or coach, instructor, board member, etc). Grief can slow us down in a way that helps clarify who and what we value. It can encourage us to ask important questions about the direction of our lives, about how we live most days, and to be grateful for what we still have and what we will have in the future. If it’s too much to see a difficult emotion as a valuable team member, maybe begin with it as an opponent that challenges you to step up your game.

There are so many emotions and so many ways to relate to emotions but hopefully this entry is a lead-off for you. I will be revisiting this topic with other strategies and other examples, especially related to sport, performing art, and business. If you find yourself struggling with this exercise on your own, try exploring it with a trusted friend, family member, or mentor. Also, just as a self-coached athlete may benefit from a personal trainer, a nutritionist, or the like, we may also benefit from a good therapist specializing in our particular need. Make it a great day! Joe

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