How to Process Emotions Instead of Reacting to Them
It might sound simple, but knowing how to process emotions instead of reacting to them has been a huge part of my mental health recovery journey. My automatic instinct when I feel any emotion is to react to it with another emotion. Then I react to that emotion, and the cycle continues until I have gotten myself truly worked up and the original emotion has been buried beneath layers of confusion and shame. Clearly this isn't the healthiest method for dealing with emotions. Through therapy and journaling, I'm learning to process my emotions instead of reacting to them.
Why Should We Process Emotions? What's Wrong with Reacting to Them?
Reacting to your emotions prevents you from actually feeling your emotions. Instead, you try to replace them with a reaction that you feel more equipped to handle. For example, when I feel hurt or angry, I often react with self-loathing. I'm used to hating myself, and it feels safer than being angry or hurt with someone else. But I am doing myself a disservice by disconnecting from my original emotions and replacing them with this reaction. By reacting, I'm not allowing myself to truly feel my emotions.
When it comes to hurt and anger, this obviously means I'm not standing up for myself, which is a problem, but the even bigger issue is how this messes with my inner world. By reacting to my emotions, I am denying my own perception of reality. I really struggle to trust myself now because of all the years I spent reacting to my emotions in a way to make them go away, rather than simply listening to them.
How to Process Your Emotions
Processing your emotions, on the other hand, is a slow, painful experience where you feel your emotions, whatever they may be, and accept them and yourself at the moment. It is incredibly difficult to do without slipping into some form of reacting. For a while, I thought processing meant "explaining" my emotions, so I started reacting to my emotions by over-intellectualizing them. But this just disconnected me from my emotions as well.
Processing is really all about allowing your emotions to sit in your body, allowing them to take up space and impact you. For people who have spent their whole lives reacting, this can be terrifying. But it's absolutely necessary for healing and learning to accept yourself.
So how are you supposed to actually go about processing your emotions instead of reacting? That is an excellent question. I honestly have such a hard time with this, so I don't have a ton of advice beyond getting into therapy, if at all possible. Therapy is one of the only spaces in my life where I feel comfortable just sitting with my emotions.
My only other method for accepting and processing my emotions is journaling. When I write, I'm allowed to just feel what I feel, even if I'm not proud of it or it upsets me. On paper, my emotions feel validated and real, even if it's just for a moment before I re-read what I wrote and feel stupid. Still, one moment of real emotional processing is better than simply reacting.
What about you? How do you manage to process your emotions? I'd love it if you shared your wisdom in the comments below.
Griffith, M. (2019, November 5). How to Process Emotions Instead of Reacting to Them, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, September 25 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/recoveringfrommentalillness/2019/11/how-to-process-emotions-instead-of-reacting-to-them
Author: Megan Griffith
I really struggle to not meet verbal abuse with more verbal abuse. My Dad yells then I yell back. At 39 I am stuck living with my parents because I can’t afford to rent in my Disability Support Pension. Now with this fing virus going around I can’t even leave.
Kristy I'm sorry to hear that you're in this situation. Even though social distancing is good for society in general, it can be very dangerous for people trapped in abusive situations. I understand it is far easier said than done, but it may help to remember that yelling back rarely helps you, even if it feels like that's what they deserve. In the moment, try thinking of what could de-escalate the situation while still enforcing your personal boundaries. Say your piece, and if they refuse to listen, try to recognize that there is nothing you can do to "force" them to understand. All you can do is speak your truth, and then walk away and protect yourself.
I go swimming. Hard. It nearly always makes me feel better.
That's a great coping mechanism! I've used that in the past as well and it can definitely be very therapeutic.
You could just do like I do when someone gets emotional
I usually do an eye roll and go about my day.
This is so beautifully said: "Processing is really all about allowing your emotions to sit in your body, allowing them to take up space and impact you." To let our emotions truly take up space can be incredibly uncomfortable but this is what we have to go through to allow them to really move, and flow and come to light. Processing our emotions is just that, it's a process. It takes time, presence, and patience. Wonderful read.