21 Jan Relating to Tough Emotions with the 8 C’s
When we experience stress, trauma, or difficult situations, reactive emotions – sadness, anger, fear – and uncomfortable body sensations – shallow breathing, shaking, tightening – naturally arise. To a certain extent, responding to stress in this way is adaptive. Rapid heart racing, muscle tightening, strong emotions, these things all trigger the body’s natural ‘fight-flight-freeze’ stress response system and prepare the body to cope with further stress.
But if left unchecked, these feelings and sensations can consume us, take over our brain and colour our thoughts, perceptions, and expectations. This is known as ‘blending’ with the feeling. When we’re blended with feelings it can seem like they define us, as in, “I’m an angry person” or “I’m an anxious person” or “That’s just who I am.” We start to take ownership of the feelings… “It’s my anger” or “It’s my grief.”
When we blend with reactive emotions or body sensations and take them as “givens,” we not only pave the way for such reactions to perpetuate until we are essentially exhausted, we also miss the opportunity to try out or cultivate other ways of being. If we can mindfully notice and observe these emotions and sensations as things of interest, rather than attach to them, we take the first steps in being defined by ourselves rather than reactions. This is freedom.
How to mindfully notice and observe tough emotions or body sensations? Dr. Janina Fisher, a psychotherapist and trauma specialist, recommends adopting one of the 8 “C” stances:
Curiosity Calm Creativity Courageousness
Compassion Clarity Confidence Connectedness
For example, viewing anxiousness with creativity might mean visualizing a character for anxiety – coming up with a shape, an animal, or an image, with clothes, a gait, a style – and viewing this character as a visitor knocking on your door. Who or what, actually is ‘Anxiety’? Or, relating to sadness with curiosity might look something like turning your attention to your slumped shoulders, asking yourself, “What does sadness actually feel like in my shoulders?” What does the sadness in my shoulders need to feel better?
Relating to difficult emotions, body discomfort, and stressful experiences through one of these “C” approaches can help us detach from and dis-identify with these reactions and instead empower ourselves to re-gain agency and freedom in our responses to stress.
For more on learning to detach from difficult emotions and sensations resultant from trauma- and stressor-related experiences, check out Dr. Janina’s website, books, and articles, here.
By: Dr. Elizabeth Landau