Our refusal to emotionally accept “what is,” is usually the result of fear. Fear that the emotion or thoughts accompanying “what is” will overwhelm us in ways from which we cannot recover. One way to deal with this fear is to gain a deeper awareness of our emotions. Ultimately, this awareness can lead to understanding; and this understanding can lead to acceptance (vs. avoidance) of the present moment.
Instead of avoiding emotions, it may be helpful to think of them in this way:
Though we appear to be individuals, we are actually comprised of many Parts. This “community” of Parts is made most apparent when we make statements such as “A part of me wants to do this, but another part of me wants to do that.” When we experience a very strong emotion such as anger or fear, we are actually feeling the experience of a very charged Part of us that carries the emotions, beliefs and sensations that we are identifying within the moment. For instance, my belief that “I should quickly get over this relationship” was held by a well-intended part of me that desired to help me avoid many painful emotions.
Think of an event
Close your eyes and think of a mild to moderately upsetting event. Maybe a customer service person was rude to you or you had a negative exchange at work. Remember specifics: what you saw, heard, said, and thought.
Focus on sensations, thoughts and emotions.
When you have the scene and memory firmly planted in your mind, focus on your body:
What body sensations do you notice? Tightness? Numbness?
What thoughts about the event do you notice arising?
What emotions towards the event do you notice arising?
*These sensations, thoughts, and emotions are held by a Part of you which carries the experiences related to the event you identified.
Generate an image and distance from the Part.
As you focus on the sensations, thoughts and emotions, try to generate an image of this Part.
What form does it take? Does it have a color? What size is it? Shape?
If it would be helpful, take a moment to draw what you see in your mind’s eye.
Now, imagine this Part 5-7 feet in front of you.
*This allows you to gain distance from this Part’s emotions, thoughts and sensations so you can get to know it without feeling overwhelmed by it.
What do you notice?
Simply observe the part.
If you are comfortable, consider the following questions:
What do you notice about the Part? What stands out to you?
What changes do you notice in your emotions and body sensations now that the Part is “outside” of you?
How do you feel towards this Part?
*If you feel at all overwhelmed by the emotions of the Part (i.e. you intensely feel the emotions related to the event you recalled), re-imagine the part distancing about 5-7 feet in front of you again.
*If you are comfortable, ask the Part to back away from you and not overwhelm you as much so you can get to know it.
Get to know this Part of you.
If you are feeling curious (or a similar emotion) towards this part consider asking the Part some questions:
What is the role or purpose that you serve?
What do you do to carry out this role?
What are you afraid would happen if you did not perform this role?
What do you need from me?
Thank this Part for allowing you to get to know it a bit.
If you are feeling any emotion that does not evoke a sense of curiosity towards the Part, simply be with the emotions that are rising. Label them and thank the Part for granting you insight into its experience.
*Gratitude is important. Notice what you do well especially if it is something you didn't think you would be able to do!
Reflect and Repeat
Are your sensations, emotions, and thoughts different in any way now that the exercise is complete?
Is your reaction towards the event you identified different from when you first began this exercise?
Have you gained any additional knowledge about yourself or the event you recalled after completing this exercise?
Repeat this exercise at least once per day. Though it may initially seem odd, many people find that it assists them in thinking about and relating to their emotions differently; with more acceptance and more compassion. Your completion of this exercise does not need to be as formal as it is laid out here. The goal is to notice and accept the fact that emotions are present so that you are able to generate a deeper understanding of them, your intentions, and motivations.
*This exercise was adapted from the Internal Family Systems (IFS) model by Dick Scwartz. I am a Level 1 trained IFS therapist.
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