Feeling All the Feels? Turning Towards Your Strong Emotions in 4 Key Steps

Is there a link between strong emotions and pain?

Yes! Strong emotions and living with chronic pain can often go hand in hand. Whether you are living with pain or supporting someone with pain, you are probably feeling all the feels. Strong emotions like anger, frustration, grief, and shame are all understandable given the impact pain can have on your lives and some of these strong emotions can also exacerbate pain1. This article steps you through a short practice to compassionately investigate these emotions so they do not need to have such a tight grip on your life.

Often, we try to push away these feelings, ignore them or fight them. Or you may not feel like you shouldn't complain or have these feelings (argh, don't get me started on the 'shoulds’ – more on that in an upcoming blog!). But constantly bottling up emotions can be like shaking up a soft drink bottle, eventually that thing is going to burst and spray everyone with fizz.

How can I regulate strong emotions while living with chronic pain?

Turning towards difficult emotions in a safe and curious way can help. Research suggests that feeling into strong emotions can actually improve your mental health and a helpful way to deal with them is to reframe them and let go of the judgement2. Feeling frustration or grief are not bad emotions and you are perfectly valid to feel them. These emotions all form part of this human experience.

Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung (1875–1961) believed that what you resist persists. When you are desperately trying to resist something (say, push down or ignore powerful strong emotions), you are actually focusing on them (even in the task of ignoring), and what you focus will continue. Actually recognizing and even labeling your emotions might be an important first step in dealing with them effectively.

In the practice outlined below, we turn towards and actually take a closer look at difficult emotions. Afterwards we find ways to nurture yourself too as research shows self-compassion is associated with a range of psychological strengths such as resilience, happiness, optimism, wisdom, curiosity, courage, exploration and emotional intelligence3.

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The R.A.I.N. practice for turning towards your emotions

The RAIN (Recognize, Allow, Investigate and Nurture) practice stems from the work of mediation teacher Tara Brach4. This guided reflection helps to allow any difficult emotions to be there and investigate them, then finding a nurturing way to respond.

1. Recognize

First step is R – Recognize. What is happening? Really understanding the situation, maybe asking yourself, “what is happening inside me right now?”. What emotions are most strong for you, maybe naming it. Are you feeling a sense of helplessness, frustration, anger, hurt, grief of future possibilities, loss?

2. Allow

The second step is A – Allow. Can you allow the experience to be there, just as it is; Whatever is here, whatever you noticed, letting the thoughts, emotions, feelings, or sensations you have recognized simply be there. Not trying to get rid of, control, fix or ignore or judge. Maybe even whispering to yourself that this belongs, it’s a part of your experience, you don’t have to like it but see if possible to just allow and let be.

3. Investigate

The third step is I – Investigate. Now we investigate with a gentle attention, bringing a sense of curiosity, and open heartedness, calling on your natural curiosity – the desire to know the truth. Directing this more focused attention to your present experience. What am I really feeling? What's the worst part about this? Maybe asking, what you are believing when this is happening? …about yourself, about others, what it all means. Is there a core belief you are latching on to – maybe feeling unworthy, not enough, comparing?

The key part is to explore where you feel this emotion in your body. So, sweeping through and investigating – is there clenching, gripping, aches, twisting, what part of the body do you feel this? Belly, heart area, throat, between the eyes, jaw? Noticing what this is like, getting in touch with these feelings, maybe you can feel the center of the feeling, the place where you feel most vulnerable. Exploring with compassion to what is here, as it is. If helps, breathing with this experience.

4. Nurture

The fourth step is N – Nurture. Can you ask that vulnerable part, what do you most need, how do you want me to be? Simply asking and listening, what does this difficult experience/part of you want to understand? To be seen? Accepted? Comfort? Company? Forgiveness? Love? Sensing how best to offer nurturing and kindness to that part of you. Listening to what’s needed and choosing something you can offer yourself – maybe put hand on heart, offering your care and presence, gesture of kindness to yourself? Maybe offering a message like:

  • It's okay
  • You’re enough
  • I’m listening
  • I know you are doing your best
  • It’s not your fault
  • I’m here
  • Thank you for trying to protect me

If you are finding it difficult, you could imagine someone else saying this to you and also remember that your breath is here in body and that you can breathe with the offering, breathing in kindness and breathing our kindness, bathed and saturated in this loving mindful presence. Opening to receiving compassion. Holding that vulnerable part of you with love, as best you can.

A final part, after the R.A.I.N…

After a rainstorm passes through, you can hear life return, the birds, the smell of the damp earth. It can be refreshing and invigorating. And so too after you have explored your strong emotions, this can be where healing and transformation happens. Having done this practice, can you get a sense of what’s here now – is there any change in you from when you started to now? More space? More kindness or ease? Taking a few moments to just rest in this spacious and kind awareness, allowing whatever is in your body, heart and mind. Arriving home, here into this moment.

An infographic outlining a way to deal with strong emttions that often come along when living with pain, the RAIN practice in 4 steps, Recognise, Allow, Investigate and Nurture - each step is outlined in more detail in the text above.
Can you use the R.A.I.N. (Recognize, Allow, Investigate and Nurture) practice to deal with strong emotions?

What if it all is too much for me to handle?

When we are most upset, it can be difficult in these moments to release our grip of emotions, find a way back to clarity, spaciousness and open heartedness. When I experience times of intense pain or emotional turmoil, (and in my house, we refer to them as a snowball), if the snowball has gathered too much momentum, this kind of practice is unlikely. I just ugly cry it out and take myself off to bed or try some other of my flare-up coping strategies.

So this practice might be done later, in a moment of calm afterwards when you can reflect on a recent experience or situation.

And, remember, if feeling into emotions becomes very intense or overwhelming, please reach out to an expert for help.

Want more?

If this article has left you wanting more, we have developed a new Family and Friends Support program for all those awesome support people out there – yes, the trusted friend, partner, child, brother, sister, mother, father – of someone who lives with chronic pain.

The program will:

  1. Increase your understanding of fibromyalgia and what’s really going on with pain.
  2. Provide you with the tools to take good care of yourself.
  3. Build your confidence to support your loved one in the best possible way.

The program contains evidence-based information and is provided through a combination of easy-to-follow written materials, audio with transcripts, online forms, videos and links to helpful resources.

If this sounds like something you might be interested in – please check out our new program – Supporting Someone with Pain to Have MoreGoodDays® – How to help your loved one, and yourself, on a journey with chronic pain. This program is currently being offered to accompany family and friends of MoreGoodDays® clients.