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Seven ways to deal with strong emotions

Families can wind you up like no-one else. Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön, author of bestselling When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice For Difficult Times has been one of editor Suzy Greaves’ biggest inspirations, and her advice might help you gain a new perspective on family strife

by Suzy Walker

how to deal with strong emotions

1. Don’t expect the pieces to line up as you want them to

‘If you’re always trying to make sure it’s all pleasure, no pain, you’ll  get stuck in a cycle that’s one of the major causes of suffering. You’re thinking, “Other people have it together. If I could just scramble enough, I could avoid these bad feelings.” It’s a myth to think you can line up all the pieces so everything goes your way.’

2. Stop trying to control everything

‘Be open and receptive to situations instead. In Buddhism we’re taught that we are not actually in control, which is a scary idea. But when you let things be as they are, you will be a much happier, more balanced, compassionate person.’

3. Reframe bad feelings as invitations to grow

‘Feelings like disappointment, irritation, embarrassment, resentment, anger, jealousy and fear are actually very clear moments that let us know where we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with absolute clarity, exactly where we’re stuck.’

4. Feel your feelings 

‘The problem is that we have so little tolerance for uncomfortable feelings. You try everything to escape them, but if, somehow, you could stay present and touch the rawness of the experience, then you can learn something. Connect with the physical sensation in your body. It always feels really bad; it’s usually a tightening in the throat or the heart or the solar plexus. Stay with that and say to yourself, “Millions of people all over the world have this kind of discomfort, fear – you don’t even have to call it anything – this feeling of not wanting things to be this way. This is my link with humanity.” Just connect with the idea that this moment is a shared experience all over the world.’

5. Stop blaming others

‘We habitually erect a barrier called blame that keeps us from communicating genuinely with others, and then we fortify it with our concepts of who’s right and who’s wrong. We do it with the people who are closest to us, with political systems, with all kinds of things that we don’t like about our associates or our society. It’s a very common, ancient, well-perfected device for trying to feel better – blame others. It’s a way to protect your heart, to protect what is soft, open and tender in yourself. Rather than own that pain, we scramble around to find some comfortable ground.’

6. Be grateful for everyone

‘If we were to make a list of people we don’t like – people we find obnoxious, threatening, or worthy of contempt – we would discover much about those aspects of ourselves thatwe can’t face. “Be grateful for everyone” is about making peace with the aspects of ourselves that we have rejected.’

7. Own your darkness

‘Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded, it’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness can we be present with others’ darkness. Compassion becomes real when we recognise our shared humanity. We’re all capable of becoming fundamentalists because we get addicted to other people’s wrongness.’

When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice For Difficult Times (Element, £6.99). For more information, visit pemachodronfoundation.org

More inspiration:

Read Becky Walsh's latest post on LifeLabs

Read Why you get triggered at work and how to stay calm by Obi James on LifeLabs

Read Women are too emotional. Really? by Jane C Woods on LifeLabs

Photograph: iStock

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