How to create emotional freedom in your life
We all have negative emotions, but how often does shame, guilt, or anxiety keep you from finding happiness? If you’re like most people, it happens often, and you may not even realize it. Consider the last time you decided not to do something because you were scared you wouldn’t be good at it. What about the times you cancelled plans because you were worried it wouldn’t go well?
This is where the concept of emotional freedom will help you. Emotional freedom means accepting your feelings — even challenging ones — so they don’t interfere with your life. Most people think running from uncomfortable thoughts is the best way to deal with them and actively avoid anything that brings up negative feelings. However, these emotions — especially regarding circumstances others navigate easily — indicate your mind is clinging to a learned pattern of thinking that no longer serves you.
Emotional freedom empowers you to recognize your challenging emotions AND still do the things you need to do — whether that means going out on dates, hitting the gym, speaking your truth, or following your passions. Pushing challenging emotions down or letting them rule your decision-making process will create frustration and unhappiness. You have to learn to process and release them.
If this sounds vague here is an example of what emotional freedom can look like.
Maybe the thought of presenting at work fills you with dread. Your mind swirls with anxious thoughts: What if it goes poorly? What if I get fired? What if someone asks me a question I can’t answer? You’re overcome with worry that things will blow up, but you have to present your ideas and take constructive criticism to progress in your career.
The first thing to do is identify negative emotions. The obvious one is anxiety, which kicks in during our example when you’re presenting in front of a large group of people. But maybe there’s something more. Perhaps you feel shame when you receive feedback, or maybe there’s guilt that you feel this torrent of emotions that has you in knots.
Now that we’ve identified these negative emotions, practice naming them when they arise. Think things like, “Hello, anxiety” or “That’s shame.” There is a power in simply acknowledging a challenging feeling rather than ignoring it.
Next, you’ll need to process these feelings. Understand that emotions don’t always reflect the truth. Put another way, just because you feel shame doesn’t mean you’ve done anything shameful. Gently question these emotions by asking questions like:
- What’s the worst that can happen?
- How likely is the worst outcome?
- How would I react if the shoe was on the other foot and I was the one observing the presentation?
- How many times have you done this before and things have turned out okay?
You may also find that these negative feelings are rooted in previous experiences. In our example, you might be fearful of presenting in public because you had an overly critical parent and nothing ever felt good enough. Take time to consider the root of these challenging emotions.
Another good tip for processing these feelings is creating mantras to gently challenge them. In our example, you might say something like, “Presenting at work isn’t the same as talking to my parents” or “I’m great at my job; I can present on my area of expertise.”
Journaling is a great tool for both identifying your challenging emotions and questioning their validity. You can also use writing for the next step — visualize happiness, specifically achieving your goal without the burden of these heavy emotions. In our example, this would involve writing about giving a presentation that goes smoothly where you roll with the punches and maybe even… have fun.
The final step, and the hardest, is to feel these challenging emotions, put them in check, and go through with what you need to do. In this case, it would be giving the presentation. Don’t call in sick. Don’t pass the project to anyone else. Do it. Own it.
It might not be comfortable, and it may feel like all the work you did going into the difficult but necessary situation was in vain. Remember it will take practice to override the feelings holding you back. There is no magic solution, but you will feel better the more you work on these steps and progress toward unlearning unhealthy thought patterns. Give yourself grace.
It’s a good practice to pause and reflect upon your progress. It can feel slow, but if you note all the times you followed these steps and cultivated emotional freedom, you’ll remind yourself of how far you’ve come.