It's true no one teaches us how to deal with our feelings. Or if they do, it's by mistake. Often we learn what to do with feelings as children by watching our parents' management of their emotions, or from messages we get from teachers, peers, or the media.
When I ask my clients how do they feel about certain situations, what are they supposed to do when they feel angry, sad, or worried, or what did they learn about the right way to handle these emotions, rarely, do they have answers. I think I probably wouldn't know either if I hadn't seen the need a therapist.
One of the first things I introduce my clients to is the idea that they probably need a coherent theory for dealing with their emotions in their lives.
RAIN is the theory I teach. Emotions are like weather patterns. When the conditions are right, they will happen. I am not a meteorologist, so I can't really do this metaphor justice, but I know when certain things happen outside it rains, or it snows, or it's windy. Same with emotions. When the causes and conditions are right, we feel anger, or sadness or worry.
Everyone has different causes and conditions, so that's important to recognize. Your background, your biology, your thought patterns, your environment how much sleep you've had, whether your hungry, all of these things contribute to the creation of your particular emotion at a particular point in time.
Looking at feelings this way can help remove some of the judgment that many of us have of ourselves when we have difficult feelings. Also, it's important to know that we can influence how we act when we have these feelings, and we can influence how we think when we have these feelings, and ultimately after a great deal of work, we can also influence the intensity of some of our most uncomfortable feelings, but , paradoxically, we have to be willing to feel them first
Most of the time many of us are walking around not even aware of how feelings are dictating our choices. When feelings are painful we try to bury them, avoid them or distract ourselves, or we discharge them through anger and blame. When something is pleasant we chase after it and try to hang on to it.
Mindfulness, which is about paying attention on purpose, and self-compassion, which is about doing it in a kind, understanding, and non-judgmental way, give us the choice to see how we are making decisions in our lives that are making us happy or unhappy based on avoiding uncomfortable feelings or chasing after good ones.
It's hard work, but often the work that people come to therapy to do. Feelings are patterns that arise naturally based on causes and conditions. You can use mindfulness and self-compassion to discover what those causes, conditions and patterns are.
The letters in the acronym #RAIN stand for:
R – Recognize what is happening
A – Accept and Allow life to be just as it is
I – Investigate inner experience with kindness
N – Nurture
The R (Recognize )and the A (Accept and Allow) of RAIN
Learning how to recognize your feelings and then accept them is usually the first step to working with feelings from a mindfulness and self-compassion framework.
Recognizing feelings can take some time. If you are not used to naming feelings a list of feelings can come in handy. You can learn to identify feelings by naming them, but also by recognizing their feelings in your body. This site has a great list.
Acceptance or allowance is a mindfulness strategy that includes not doing anything with those feelings once you recognize them. Usually we are reacting to feelings unconsciously. We are stuffing them, or avoiding them, or actively refusing to feel them somehow by trying to get rid of them or by blaming someone else. Accepting them is simply opening to the experience of the feelings in your body and making room for the experience in your mind. Having an attitude of understanding and compassion for yourself if it is a painful feeling can help tremendously with the process of acceptance.
To help with this, I use the image of the school bus and a child getting off the school bus. What is the first thing you would do for a child who was coming home from school felt the way you feel ( sad, scared, hurt, angry) and it was your job to greet them after their day?
Usually, the response is to hug and comfort the child. Sometimes this image is not helpful, and it is easier to think about what you would do for a best friend or someone you loved who was feeling this difficult feeling. Part of acceptance is being able to sooth and comfort yourself so you can stay still in the feeling and not try to deny or get rid of it.
The step of allowing or accepting a feeling may seem silly, but identifying feelings and accepting them is key to making wise decisions in your life. Emotions can informative, and can contain wise information. Many of my clients start to see destructive and unhealthy patterns in their lives when they practice mindfulness and #selfcompassion because they are actually able to see how the choices they are making in their lives are driven by their unfelt emotions rather than by what is their best interest. Spending time on the R and the A in RAIN is worth it.
Next post. The I and the N of RAIN.