The Key To Inner Balance: Understanding How Emotions Work
Inner balance sounds nice, doesn’t it? Inner balance is something most of us strive for. Yet, do we actually know what inner balance means, or, more importantly, how to achieve it? Through understanding the true nature of inner balance, we can begin to consider ways to achieve it.
What is Inner Balance?
When we attain inner balance, we have achieved a state of stability – emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. This stability that comes with inner balance allows us to feel more grounded, mindful, resilient, and overall, have a more positive. Unfortunately, there are many things in life that make attaining inner balance a big challenge. In fact, almost anything in life has the potential to move us away from inner balance: other people, work, loss, fear, thoughts, schedules, procrastination, pollution, noise, the weather, and on, and on.
Life is chaotic, and it is hard to turn that chaos into calm. Luckily, we all have the capacity to access the essential tool to achieving inner balance – our emotions. Through understanding, feeling, and processing our emotions, we can begin to establish a sense of inner ease, balance, and internal peace.
Adaptive versus Maladaptive Emotional Processing
Processing our emotions is essential. Our emotions carry energy, and that energy needs to be released. Yet, more often than not, the tendency is to inhibit our emotions. We inhibit our emotions when we attempt to repress, distract, or avoid our emotions. We also inhibit our emotions when we judge them (i.e. – “I shouldn’t be so sad” or “What is wrong with me!?”).
This negative self-talk is hugely unhelpful – it solidifies that difficult emotions are “bad” and thus we “shouldn’t” feel them. Adding insult to injury, the judgment of our emotions actually increases the intensity of the emotion(s).
We all may block our emotions from time to time. Yet, when done consistently over time, it develops a maladaptive pattern; and this maladaptive pattern of blocking emotions comes with a cost. Choosing to not feel our feelings means we miss out on important information. Our emotions carry messages about what we need in any given moment, and messages that orient us toward taking action.
For those who have been suppressing, avoiding, and denying their emotions for a long time, it can be scary to think about actually feeling the feelings. Through adaptive processing, emotions are released, rather than stored in the body. There are various ways to begin to experience and release our emotions:
- Label the Emotion – name the emotion or emotions you are experiencing. Throughout the day, check in with yourself. You might try using a statement such as “right now I feel ____ (hurt, angry, lonely, etc.)”. Naming the emotion(s) is the first step to taming the emotion. It should also be noted that it is important not to judge your emotions. Although some might be more uncomfortable than others, there are no bad feelings. Feelings serve as messages, showing us what we are needing in those moments.
- Name the Physical Sensation – emotions not only affect our mental state, but can also manifest physically. Some psychologists believe that emotions are actually responses to physiological changes in the body. Regardless of which comes first (changes in the body that lead to feeling emotions, or emotions that cause physical sensations), it can be helpful to be mindful of anything you may notice physically experiencing emotions. For example, some people notice their body temperature rises when they are angry, or they get an upset stomach when feeling anxious.
- Notice the Changes in Intensity – some emotions can feel overwhelming. Yet, even the strongest emotions are like waves – they come and go, they rise and fall, and each emotional experience has a peak point. Physical pain works the same way. Think about the last time you stubbed your toe. Likely the physical pain rose, peaked, and eventually decreased. Noticing the changes in an emotion’s intensity not only promotes increased awareness of our emotions, but can help solidify the notion that emotions shift, change, and will eventually dissipate. This is hard for some to believe, especially with intense emotional experiences.
- Identify Your Urges – we all have urges, impulses, and desires to behave in certain ways. When emotions are high, urges tend to be destructive and unhealthy. Some may turn to substances in an attempt to numb out from the emotions, while others may lash out (verbally or physically) towards others, themselves, or their belonging (i.e. – throwing the phone across the room). Through identifying our unhelpful and unhealthy urges, we can be more discerning about how we react or respond to challenging emotions. Over time, this can lead to a greater sense of control over our reactions and responses, rather than allowing our emotions to control them.
Taking these steps to begin to allow healthy emotional experiencing and processing, we are on the road to achieving inner balance. But remember, inner balance is something that in order to be maintained requires continual work.