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How to Manage Painful Emotions

By Dr. Margaret Paul
December 31, 2006

Rather than turning to addictions or other unloving behavior to numb your feelings, learn how to lovingly manage your painful emotions.

Managing painful emotionsWhen we were little, painful feelings were too big for our little bodies. We might have died if we felt them fully, especially if there was abuse involved. For many people, their painful feeling were unending. They couldn't leave the situation causing the pain, and there may have been no one to turn to for help with the pain if the pain was being caused by parents. For most children, there is no point in feeling their pain, since there is little they can do about the cause of the pain. They can't leave or call a friend or a therapist for help. They are stuck in painful situations and need to find ways to survive. Our protective behavior are the ways we learned to survive.

As a result, we grow up with many false beliefs about feeling our pain -- beliefs that were true as children but are no longer true now. If we continue to believe that we will die from our pain, that it is unending, and that there is no reason to feel it since there is nothing we can do about it, we will continue to avoid feeling and learning from our painful feelings.

What do you do when you feel lonely, heartbroken, hurt, angry, anxious, frightened, depressed, jealous, guilty, shamed? Do you act out, dumping your feelings on others? Do you ignore your feelings, turning to your various addictions instead? Do you shove them down until they make you sick? Do you rely on medications to not feel your feelings too intensely?

We often turn to unhealthy ways of handling our feelings when we don't know what else to do and are operating from our false beliefs about pain.

False Beliefs About Pain

What does your wounded self believe about pain?

  • I can't handle my pain, especially the pain of disapproval, rejection, abandonment, the pain of being shut out -- the pain of isolation, loneliness and heartbreak.
  • If I open to my pain, I will fall apart. I will go crazy or die.
  • If I open to my pain, it will be unending.
  • Once I start to cry, I'll never stop.
  • Showing pain is a sign of weakness.
  • People will think less of me if they see me cry. If I cry I will be rejected, or people will think I'm crazy.
  • No one really wants to hear about my pain.
  • No one can handle the depth of my pain.
  • My problems are so trivial compared to other people's that I have no right to be in pain.
  • Why should I have to feel this pain? I don't deserve it.
  • There's no point in opening to pain. It doesn't make anything better. "Why cry over spilt milk?"

As long as you operate from these beliefs, you will likely turn to your substance and process addictions to avoid feeling your painful emotions.

Two Kinds of Feelings

We have two kinds of painful feelings:

1) Wounded Self Feelings - These are the feelings that we cause by our own thoughts -- our false beliefs. These are the feelings of anger, rage, hurt, anxiety, depression, guilt, shame, jealousy, aloneness and emptiness. These feelings are always the result of thinking thoughts that are not true.

2) Core Self Feelings - These are the feelings that result from being on the planet -- loneliness when we have no one to connect to, or the people around us are closed off; helplessness over others and events; grief when we lose someone we love; sadness and sorrow over our own and others' pain; heartache and heartbreak over others' unloving behavior toward themselves and us, and outrage over injustice.

Our feelings, or emotions, should be e-motion -- energy in motion. They are supposed to move through the body and be released. Children naturally do this. Think about a child coming to you crying with a skinned knee. You hold the child, acknowledge the hurt, and within minutes the child is off playing again. The feeling has been released.

However, many of us never had someone hold us and acknowledge our pain so we could release it and move on. Much of our pain got stuck in our bodies and is still there, constantly triggered by present situations that may remind us of past trauma. These stuck emotions can cause anxiety, depression and illness.

As adults, we need to learn to acknowledge and release our emotions for ourselves.

Releasing Feelings

Inner Bonding

Inner Bonding is a powerful process for learning about the false beliefs and resulting behaviors that cause our wounded feelings. By tuning into your feelings and wanting responsibility for them (Step 1); moving into an intent to learn about what you are thinking and doing that is causing the wounded feelings, and compassionately nurturing the core feelings (Step 2); dialoguing to discover the false beliefs and resulting thoughts and behaviors that are causing the wounded feelings, and what is occurring that is causing the core feelings (Step 3); going to Spirit for the truth and the loving action (Step 4); taking the loving action (Step 5); and evaluating the action to see how you are feeling as a result of the loving action (Step 6), you can move out of the painful feelings and into peace.

The Anger Process

The Anger Process is part of Step Two of Inner Bonding. It is a powerful way to release anger that may be in the way of being open to learning. It is a three-part process:

Releasing your anger will work only when your intent in releasing it is to learn about what you do that causes your angry feelings. If you just want to use your anger to blame, control and justify your position, you will stay stuck with a closed heart. This three-part anger process moves you out of victim-mode and into open-heartedness.

1. Imagine that the person you are angry at is sitting in front of you. Let your wounded child yell at him or her, saying in detail everything you wish you could say. Unleash your anger, pain and resentment until you have nothing more to say. You can scream and cry, pound a pillow, roll up a towel and beat the bed. (The reason you don't tell the person directly is because this kind of cathartic, no-holds-barred "anger dump" would be abusive to them.)

2. Now ask yourself who this person reminds you of in your past--your mother or father, a grandparent, a sibling? (It may be the same person. That is, you may be mad at your father now, and he is acting just like he did when you were little.) Now let your wounded child yell at the person from the past as thoroughly and energetically as in part one.

3. Finally, come back into the present and let your inner child do the same thing with you expressing your child's anger, pain and resentment toward you for your part in the situation or for treating yourself the way the people in parts one and two treated you. This brings the problem home to personal responsibility, opening the door to exploring your own behavior.

Anger at another person is generally a projection of your inner child's anger at you for not taking loving care of yourself. Recognizing your anger at others as a projection can move you into an intent to learn.

Release Through Screaming and Crying

Have you ever been on a roller coaster and felt the intense G-force in your stomach? The thing that releases this and makes it tolerable is screaming. Screaming moves the energy through your body so it doesn't stay stuck. The same is true of emotions. Allowing yourself to scream and cry when there is intense fear, anger, heartbreak,and grief can help to move these feelings through your body.

Sometimes you feel like you want to cry and scream but you just can't get there. When this is the case, lying down and doing deep breathing can help open you to your feelings. Breathe into both your chest and stomach, taking in as much air as you can, and then let all the air out, using long slow breaths. Imagine that you are breathing in a circle where you don't stop the breathe at the top or the bottom of the circle - a continuous breath. A few minutes of this kind of breathing will often open you to deep pain, which you can then release through crying and screaming. You might also want to pound your fists and kick your legs, but be sure you are on a bed so you won't get hurt.

As with the Anger Process, this is part of Step Two - Opening to Learning. Once you release your feelings, you can move to Step Three and explore what you might be thinking or doing that is causing your feelings. If these are core Self feelings, holding and rocking your doll or bear can be very self-soothing and self-nurturing.

Release to Spirit

Sometimes feelings stay stuck even after doing the Inner Bonding process and still need to be released. Or, the feelings are core painful feelings and once we nurture them and understand what is happening that is causing them and what the loving action is, we can release them to Spirit.

1) We start with Step 1 of Inner Bonding - embracing, welcoming and acknowledging the feelings. We hold the feeling with compassion for a few minutes, giving it room to be there and a safe place to be.

2) We ask Spirit to take the feeling from us and replace it with whatever it is we want to feel. For example, if we are feeling lonely because there is no one to share love with, or the people around us are unavailable, we would acknowledge that this is what we feel, move into compassion for ourselves for having this feeling, hold the feeling tenderly with compassion, and then ask Spirit to take the feeling from us and replace it with peace and acceptance.

When you do this with a deep willingness to release the feeling, you can actually feel the energy of the feeling leaving your body. It only takes a few minutes, just as it does with children.

Trauma Therapies

When the energy of fear, anxiety, loss and grief resulting from trauma becomes locked into the body, we can find ourselves stuck in constant stress or terror. This is called Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, or PTSD. Fortunately, there are various trauma therapies that can help with this. Some of them are: EFT - The Emotional Freedom Technique; TRE - Trauma Release Exercises; SE - Somatic Experiencing; EMDR - Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.

I encourage all of you who are feeling stuck with painful feelings to attend to releasing them.

Join Dr. Margaret Paul for her 30-Day at-home Course: "Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships."


Join IBVillage to connect with others and receive compassionate help and support for learning to love yourself.

Photo by Lechenie Narkomanii


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We don't surrender to Spirit because we have hope in having control - over people, outcomes, and our own feelings. Today, notice how often your thoughts turn to, "If I do this, then this will happen." "If I say this, then the other person will react in this way." Our hope of control is very deep, but it will never bring us true peace and safety.


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We don't surrender to Spirit because we have hope in having control - over people, outcomes, and our own feelings. Today, notice how often your thoughts turn to, "If I do this, then this will happen." "If I say this, then the other person will react in this way." Our hope of control is very deep, but it will never bring us true peace and safety.



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