What You Resist, Persists: 4 Steps to Emotional Freedom

heart drawn in the sand with right foot

By Risa Gaull Brophy, BS, MQT

You know when you’re really upset about something, or you just feel like your stuck in a funky mood but you can’t seem to get yourself out of it? Maybe you eat something to make yourself feel better, or watch TV, or go shopping, but it doesn’t really help you shift how you feel.

Our natural inclination is to distract ourselves in order to avoid feeling anything uncomfortable, and we may do this consciously or unconsciously. The problem is that what we resist, persists. It’s like trying to hold a beach ball under water: it actually takes a lot of energy to suppress feelings, and as soon as we stop, they come exploding to the surface! Even though we often do this unconsciously, avoiding our feelings actually creates a lot of internal stress.

Although our brains are designed to help us avoid feeling pain at all costs, what we actually need to do in order to avoid suffering is to embrace all our thoughts and feelings, and witness them with radical self-acceptance.

So, how the heck do you do that? Here’s a quick 4-step process you can try next time you’re upset and don’t know what do to feel better.

The 4 A’s Process for Emotional Freedom*

  1. Awareness: Take a deep breath and become aware of the sensations in your body. Release any agenda to change or “fix” what you feel. Just notice what is present in your body.

  2. Authenticity: Name what you’re feeling. What/who has triggered you, causing you to feel upset? You can say to yourself, “I feel __________ because ____________” (e.g. I feel hurt because my partner yelled at me.). If you’re not sure what you feel, or you don’t know why you’re upset or uneasy, just go on to step 3 and continue to work with the feeling that is present in your body.

  3. Allowance: Just for a minute, can you allow this feeling to exist?

  4. Acceptance: Locate the feeling physically. Where do you feel it in your body? What sensations do you feel (e.g. constriction in my throat, burning in my chest, hurt or sinking feeling in my heart, etc.)? If this feeling had a color, texture or temperature, what would it be? Compassionately hold this energy, as you would an upset child. As you inhale, imagine breathing love and light into that feeling and just notice if it shifts in any way (e.g. does it feel like it’s opening, expanding, or getting less intense?). Keep doing this until you feel called to stop.

I know it’s counter-intuitive... The last thing we want to do when we feel pain or discomfort is to sit with it. However, if we’re willing to be with it, as a compassionate witness for just a few minutes, this simple act of non-resistance is often enough to shift the feeling.

You may also need to take it further and really explore what’s coming up for you. The good news is that when someone or some situation triggers us and painful or uncomfortable feelings are present, it’s actually a golden opportunity for healing and moving into greater self-acceptance.

*This 4-step process was adapted from my training as a Diamond Process Transformational Life Coach. See below for information about my upcoming retreat, in which you can learn more such techniques for developing internal calm.


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Awaken Everyday Blog
Writing to inspire mindfulness, contemplation and wholesome living, by Copper Beech master teachers, students and contributors.

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