How to Stop Layering Your Emotions

So you can live a happier life

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Photo by Hybrid on Unsplash

Have you ever gotten mad about something then got mad about the fact that you’re mad?

This happened to me earlier today, and it’s not the first time. I got mad at something, then lost my temper, then I got mad at myself for behaving in such a way. Then I felt guilty. Then I couldn’t stop thinking about it and went down a worm hole of emotion. It was one of those instances where somewhere in the back of my head, the little voice was saying “just get back to work and let it pass.”

But, I couldn’t. To attempt to deflect from the layers of emotions I was experiencing, I started dorking around on Facebook and doing other time wasting things that were mindless with hopes that it would all go away.

Then I felt guilty for not working and started the mental bickering: “ You shouldn’t be doing that. You should be doing this. You have bills to pay and blah, blah, blah…” I sounded like my little Jewish grandma when she would constantly nag my poor, docile grandpa about what he was supposed to be wearing.

I finally got a hold of myself and went for a walk (without my phone). I needed to create some space in my mind to release all of that negative energy and those badgering thoughts.

When we start stacking emotions on top of one another, we set ourselves up for self destruction. There’s only so much you can pile on until it all comes crashing down. It’s difficult to get ahead of it. It’s like throwing a stone into a pond and creating a ripple effect. It’s not enough to just feel mad or sad. We get mad that we’re sad, or sad that we’re mad, or mad that we’re mad. It’s a vicious cycle.

So how do we get ahead of it so we don’t go into full blown meltdown mode and collapse?

Stop asking this moment to be anything other than it is. Don’t make everything worse by thinking you have to be or do something other than what is. That only adds more pain. Rather than fighting it and attempting to uphold some imaginary expectation, simply accept it as what you feel right now. Are you unhappy? Fine. Be unhappy, but don’t be unhappy with being unhappy. Just simply accept that you’re unhappy. Make sense?

Pick one emotion and stick with it. It’s ok to be mad. It’s ok to be sad. But don’t pile mad on top of mad, or sad on top of sad, or guilt on top of anger, or disappointment on top of guilt.

The problem is, we don’t like it when we feel bad. We feel we should do better. We don’t want to be in a powerless place. We want to just stay in some safe little corner where we’ve got everything figured out; we can never make a mistake - where it is calm and peaceful, and not play in the game of life at all. But that’s no fun. Be mad and work through it. Don’t get upset if you fall of your bike. Don’t be embarrassed that you skinned-up your knees, and don’t feel bad if anger or revenge or frustration or whatever it is, is the best that you can do in that moment. Set all of the other emotions aside. You don’t need them.

Focus on a primary emotion rather than the secondary ones. A primary emotions include sadness, disappointment, frustration, etc. These are the emotions that feel appropriate for any given situation. However, a primary emotion can escalate to a secondary emotion such as anger, resistance, worry, or guilt.

Say someone in line behind you at the grocery store jumps to the head of the line when teller opens a new register. You’re automatically annoyed (primary emotion that’s appropriate for the the situation). You could just stick with that annoyance and let it pass, or you can start ruminating on it: “What an asshole!” You may even say something to that person or call a manager over. Now you’ve let yourself layer anger on top of frustration. THEN you might feel a little embarrassed or ashamed at your behavior. Just stick with being annoyed and let the rest go.

Turn inward and feel the emotion in your body. Sense the emotion directly. Observe it as if you were an outsider. If you were to describe the feelings going on inside your body as symptoms to a doctor, how would you describe them? Hot? Prickly? Suffocating? Knotty? Just observe them objectively then let them go.

Don’t give the emotion meaning. Rather than filtering your emotions through the lens of any preexisting story or thoughts, allow the feeling to just be there without judgment or labels. Stop trying to identify with it and resisting it. The emotion itself isn’t “sadness” or “anger”. It is only a story of sadness or anger. Only an emotion PLUS an unhappy/angry/ sad/ guilty, etc. story is unhappiness, anger, sadness, and so on. If you stop telling the story about them, what happens to them? What happens to the emotions if you don’t mind them? They will likely dissipate and go away.

Awareness is key. Once you become aware of the first emotion, stop any others in their tracks. Don’t let them pile up and soon you will feel the one emotion dissolve, and you’ll wonder what you were so upset about in the first place. ;)


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