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  • Writer's pictureElfreda Manahan-Vaughan

Three Questions to Ask when You Experience Unwanted Emotions

I have been pondering lately what allows some people to regulate their emotions more effectively than others. Reading the work of Daniel Goleman always bring me back to the necessity of Emotional Intelligence to understand and regulate what is happening to you. Emotional Intelligence brings resilience but what simple tools can we use to help us come back from the brink of anger or sadness quickly and easily?

I can't say I have always been capable of regulating my emotions and I am still known for the odd outburst of ‘grring’ when pushed however, I have got increasingly better at remaining calm during times of stress.

I enjoy the practice of investigation in meditation, which is not like thinking, in that you explore an idea or topic without getting attached to the outcome or getting carried away in the emotion of it. I think this has been one of the best tools I have used to understand what pushes my buttons and why I feel upset by some things and not others. Using this type of exploration has helped me to come up with three questions I ask myself when I feel I am getting carried away by the narrative of my anger, sadness or frustration.

If you wish to use a meditation for investigating your own experience I recommend the R.A.I.N meditation described by Tara Brach in her book True Refuge: Finding Peace & Freedom in Your Awakened Heart. R stands for Recognise, A for Allow, I for Investigate and N for Non-Identification. You can use this meditation to explore your feelings related to a specific situation or to an event from the past or with any difficult or challenging relationship.

Below are my three questions. I use these to explore my own emotions and to quickly bring myself back to a more centred state of being. I hope they encourage you to come up with your own and to develop your own strategy for managing negative emotions through self-enquiry meditation.

What purpose does this serve?

All emotions, regardless of whether we think they are good or bad, serve a purpose. They are often trying to protect you from something or help you to gain control when you are feeling helpless. Anger falls into the latter, most often, and is usually a response to feeling like you have no control. When you ask, what purpose your emotions serve the response is twofold. The first will bring awareness to what you really want but the second aspect is what will it do if you give in to your emotions. The outcome of negative emotions can often be quite damaging and so following through can regularly have long term implications for you and those involved.

When you step back for a moment you can view your experience more objectively and realise the impact of your behaviour but also identify what is really going on.

What do I want?

We often don't realise what we really need physically, emotionally, spiritually or mentally and we forget that our underlying feelings are the real drivers behind what we display externally. Although this question similar to the one above, it is different as it allows us to explore what we feel we need, or that which we are trying to escape. Sometimes, it may be that you are seeking some sort of validation or recognition. It may be a desire for control or it could be that you are protecting yourself from emotions you would prefer not to experience such as feelings of inadequacy or helplessness, or feeling unwanted or unloved. When you identify that which you truly need, you can then explore ways in which to give yourself what you need without succumbing to overwhelming emotions.

What is useful to do now?

With this question, you look to what is the best response in this moment. You can look at what possible outcomes may arise, as you did when looking at the purpose of your emotions, but you can also explore how you can have your needs met. This question, for me, is important as it forces me to realise I am the one in control of my emotions and that outside influences are simply triggers and not the cause of what I am experiencing. When you take a moment to look at the bigger picture, you can make better choices not only for yourself but everyone involved.

Although I regularly include this type of enquiry into my daily mediation practice, I also use it throughout my day as needed. It can be used simply by taking a moment to go inwards and ask, or by taking a time out and acknowledging that you really need.

I hope you find this useful and take the time to include it, or something similar, into your self-enquiry meditation practice. Thanks for reading, Elfreda

For information on my coaching and teaching check out the rest of my website or may Facebook page.

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