NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Mindfulness Meditation: Coping with Painful Emotions

Mindfulness Meditation: Coping With Emotional Pain

"Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional."

Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha)

In his book Full Catastrophe LivingJon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., discusses how even a moderate amount of mindfulness meditation can help to ease both physical and emotional pain. 

In my December 26, 2010 blog post, I described mindfulness meditation Mind-Body Connection: Mindfulness Meditation. In this blog post, I discuss how mindfulness meditation can help you with emotional pain.

Coping with Emotional Pain with Mindfulness Meditation:
Often, when people are feeling upset, whether they are angry, sad, resentful, anxious, fearful, jealous, or ashamed, their tendency is to either suppress these uncomfortable feelings or to deal with them in other unhealthy ways.

Suppressing emotional pain only intensifies it. You might manage to distract yourself for a while by suppressing your feelings, but these feelings will eventually come back to the surface again, even stronger than before.

Unhealthy or maladaptive ways of suppressing feelings might include: drinking excessively, abusing drugs, overeating, acting out sexually, working excessively or other negative ways of coping.

Rather than suppressing their feelings, other people become so flooded by their emotions that they lose control. They might lose their temper. Other people berate themselves and engage in negative self talk.

An alternative to these maladaptive strategies is to practice mindfulness meditation. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, people who practice mindfulness meditation find that, at the very least, some of the edge of the emotional pain is taken off. Rather than avoiding their emotions, people who practice mindfulness meditation learn to stay with them. Over time, they build a stronger capacity for containing these emotions.

This might seem completely contrary to what you might think. After all, no one wants to feel emotions that are uncomfortable for them. But when you practice mindfulness meditation, you learn to observe and deconstruct your emotional pain in a non-personal way. You get to witness your emotional pain without clinging to it.

When you become adept at using mindfulness meditation, you will usually see and accept that you're not your feelings. You also see that nothing remains the same, your feelings are transitory, and will pass.

Who is the "You" Who is Watching During Mindfulness Meditation?
Often when people are upset and in the throes of emotional pain, they have little or no awareness that they are not their feelings. But this might sound strange to you. What do we mean by "You're not your feelings?"

When you practice mindfulness meditation, you realize that the core of who you are is separate from your thoughts and feelings. You come to experience this over time because you become aware that there is another part of yourself, which I call your Core Self (other people call it by other names), who is witnessing what is going on with you--what you're feeling and what you're thinking.

Your Core Self:
It is my belief that we all have a Core Self, even people with multiple personalities, who have been emotionally fractured into many parts by trauma, have a Core Self. We're not always aware of our Core Self in our everyday lives. But most people have had the experience, at some point in their lives, of a deeper part of themselves that knows intuitively what's right for them.

Richard Schwartz, Ph.D., who developed the Internal Family System (IFS) model of psychotherapy described the Core Self of consisting of the "8 C's": compassion, calmness, curiosity, clarity, confidence, creativity, courage, and connectedness (Internal Family Systems - Self Leadership). The Core Self is that part of us that knows what's best for us.

Through the practice of mindfulness meditation, which is also called Insight Meditation, over time, we get in touch with the Core Self. The Core Self is aware that, even though we might be in a lot of emotional pain, these feelings and thoughts are not part of the core of who we are. We are much more than that.

When clients come to see me in my private practice in New York City, I often recommend that they consider mindfulness meditation as part of their coping strategies.

About Me
I am a psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, Somatic Experiencing therapist, and EMDR therapist in New York City.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.