The follow-up to our theme during groups, of Emotion Regulation, is the skill of letting go. What is involved in this skill? How can it be useful and does letting go mean you are throwing in the proverbial towel?
First of all, the answer to whether you are giving in, or giving up if you let go is: a resounding no. The idea of letting go is accomplished in 3 steps.
- Observe the emotion you are experiencing.
- Allow the emotion.
- Let go of the emotion.
Let's break these steps down and see what is involved in each.
Step 1: Observe the emotion:
This involves a serious project of research on emotions. Not only is it important that you be able to learn what you yourself are identifying as a particular emotion, but the research will help you with what that emotion does for you. The benefits, the pit-falls, what it looks like when that emotion is being displayed and finally what other emotions may look similar or be connected.
Step 2: Allow the emotion.
This may be scary and that is very valid. In as safe of a situation as you can possibly muster, allow that emotion to come over you. Allowing it means you be there with it in the moment. There is no judgment of yourself or the emotion. "This is stupid that I feel this way..." etc. Allowing the emotion is like watching clouds roll by. If you were to lay in the grass and look up to the sky, as you watch the clouds your brain may say, "Hey, that one looks like..." or "That one is dark and less fluffly." You would be making observations about those clouds. At no point would you see a cloud and say, "That cloud is dark, so that must mean I am being stupid!" No judgments. The emotion isn't bad or wrong and neither are you. You are not your emotion, it is merely a moment in time that is happening. So Allow it. Feel it. Describe it to yourself in as many details as you are able to.
Step 3: Let it go
Let that emotion go. Let it burn out, as you would a candle. Let it go by as you would a cloud. You wouldn't rage against the cloud passing or a flame going out. You wouldn't try and hang onto a stream. No, the water would pass through your fingers, so is with the emotion.
We will find emotions to be more intense when we try with all our might to hang onto them while we are experiencing them. The self-talk of how mad you are, or how angry you are, or how sad, guilty, frustrated you are. The self-talk that is littered with judgment about yourself, the emotions or the situation, is hanging on. It is raging against the emotion, it is not allowing it to be and happen and pass. Obviously, this is the most tricky part of the 3 steps. We will be inclined to grab back at that emotion as we learn to let go. We will be tempted to feed ourselves thoughts that will anchor us to that emotion. This takes practice. Practice and a lot of self talk. Literally say to yourself, "I allowed the emotion and now it is time to let it go" Literally, imagine that emotion written across a cloud and watch it float away from you in your mind. A piece of you has not left, you are not that emotion. It is going because you are letting it go.
So, you see, once you have done all three steps, now it is time to move on what that emotion did for you, and that was motivate you to action. Now, with that emotion let go of, you can clearly and effectively make the choice of what action is required. You will be balanced enough to view that emotion from wise mind and clearly see what action is next. And that action gets to be done without dragging the remnants of that distressing emotion around with you, because after-all you let it go! :)
Try telling yourself in a non-distressful situations the steps you are going to take to let go of certain emotions. Go through the steps perhaps when it is a very calm moment that you can ground yourself in and practice, practice, practice.
Next weeks groups we will discuss some myths about our emotions! Challenging those myths will lead us right into distress tolerance.
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