Little kids have the uncanny ability to repeat a phrase or question until you answer them. Am I right?! Perhaps you nod, or mutter an “um hmm,” but tenacity wins out as they persist until you offer your full attention. Let’s be real; sometimes my puppy is even worse! Relentlessly, he follows behind me, or steps directly in front of me, until I stop what I am doing and pet his sweet head or toss the toy he proudly totes. The resolution comes so easily with a little attention. A few moments listening to the little one, answering a thoughtful question, or taking time to engage with my pup all seem to dissolve the previous track stuck on repeat.
In many ways, the emotional needs of our souls are similar.
Have you ever noticed an annoying emotion following you around? Perhaps you wake up to a vague negative sense nagging at you. You can’t quite put your finger on it, so you simply try to ignore it. Or, worse, you are acutely aware why a certain anxious, overwhelming, or sorrowful response is bubbling just below your surface. Though, awareness around the unwanted emotion doesn’t ease the pain. Heck, some days a wave of unwelcome feeling seems to crash over us, and we aren’t sure why, or how, or what is going on!
A typical response to undesirable emotions is a solid effort to manage them. Most women have strong proverbial muscles in the control department; I trust you know what I mean. And, to be fair, trying to change negative emotions is a very reasonable thing to do! Though, exerting effort in this fashion isn’t particularly helpful.
Here’s why- to try and push negative emotions away, use our energy to consciously ignore them, or strive to dissect them in analysis usually keeps us stuck on repeat, just like the kid asking the same question. It’s good intentions gone awry; a fruitless trap that keeps us from resolution.
Conversely, if we pause for a moment and give ourselves a bit of attention, we often find relief! This very simple suggestion sounds quite elementary, yet is incredibly powerful. Give it a try! The next time you discern a negative emotion hanging out in your day, regardless of if you are aware it’s origin, pause. Offer yourself the same tender attention you would give a child. Check-in with yourself and identify what you are feeling. Name the specific emotion you sense. Acknowledge its existence, and even go so far as to assure yourself there is a valid reason you feel this way. Your soul has emotional needs, just as your body has physical ones. Compassionately attending to our emotional needs leads to resolution!
Emotional responses are signals pointing to a need. It’s our inner being’s way of getting our attention! Just as our body sends messages of pain to communicate danger when we burn ourselves, our emotions send us signals to communicate unmet needs. In taking a few moments to attend to our emotional needs, we can discover what we need, meet the need, and move on!
I’ll illustrate with a personal example. One day last week, I felt overly emotional. Nothing was “wrong” per se, but I sensed the equivalent of a black cartoon cloud hanging over my head. My day was busy, and honestly, I was frustrated by my lack of progress and couldn't enjoy myself due to this black cloud situation. By mid-day the annoyance billowed inside, yet, I was exerting my energy feeling annoyed instead of giving myself what I needed! I paused for a few moments and prayed. I asked God for wisdom and then asked myself a few questions. What specific emotion did I feel? What was going on? And, How could I take care of myself? I quickly realized, I felt physically exhausted! I hadn’t slept well, and my brain was foggy. There was nothing significant looming below the surface; I was just tired! I labeled what I felt, and acknowledged how very reasonable it was. Then, I considered how to care for myself that day. I concluded that I needed to trade in my expectation of perfection for an appropriate to-do list. I shifted a couple of things to the following day, and chose to say something like, “today, this is the best I can do, and that’s okay.” Almost immediately after identifying what I felt and what I needed, that pesky feeling lifted! I moved on able to enjoy my day, all because I gave myself a little attention.
The process isn’t always this tidy, as life rarely is. Though, the more we practice taking time to check-in with ourselves, the easier it becomes! In acknowledging what we feel, whether or not we understand “why” at that moment, we often can pinpoint some unmet need. As we offer ourselves a bit of kind attention, we can move forward sans the wasted energy trying to control the negative emotion or the relentless black cloud!
Just like little ones or puppies, sometimes, we just need a little attention!