The 3 As: How to be a Compassionate Presence for Yourself during Difficult Times

Person journalling through feelings using 3 As Process

Learning to process our difficult feelings and emotions can be hard – because we live in a society that believes we should control our emotions.

So what usually happens when we feel “bad” is we try to ignore our feelings. We distract, compartmentalise or stuff down what we feel. But our emotions are like a jack in the box, we get the lid on, but our feelings just pop up later when we’re least expecting it.

And of course, the more you stuff down your feelings, the more the pressure builds up. And the more pressure, the greater the ‘shock’ when your feelings finally erupt. This is why so many people seem to blow up angrily (or cry) over small things. It’s not that one thing that’s upset them, it’s all the small things that happened before layered up until – explosion!

So, it’s important to take care of our feelings. To process and allow what we feel – so that our feelings can “move through” us and not get stuck – or let out inappropriately.

We are ALL having unusual & intense feelings during this COVID-19 crisis

With this COVID-19 situation, we’re all managing a lot of strange and unusual feelings and thoughts. A loss of freedom and autonomy, a lack of ‘space’ from our immediate family (but distance from friends), fear and threat about going outside or even just shopping for groceries! We’re also worried for our immunocompromised and elderly loved ones, as well as not knowing when this ends and the ever-changing rules. That’s not even a complete list – and it’s a lot!

“Negative” feelings are meant to be uncomfortable

Our “negative” feelings are unpleasant because they’re designed to make us pay attention. They are a warning – and want to be known so they can keep us safe.

And while we’ve evolved all this science and technology to explain the world, developed jet engines, nuclear science and have decoded much of our DNA, even super-brainy scientists often don’t know how to manage their own feelings.

It’s no surprise. We teach children facts – history, maths and languages, science, geography and art. But when it comes to emotions, the education we get is to ignore or overpower our feelings. We’re taught to sit still, listen to others, control our feelings – and behave.

So, it’s no wonder that when a crisis happens and we’re feeling all these strong emotions, we don’t know what to do with them.

And sometimes we over-react

Frustratingly, what your mind perceives as an immediate threat can sometimes be an over-reaction. Is my life really in danger because I forgot to send that email? (this from my own experience!)

I’m sure many of you have experienced surges of fear, panic or dread over the last few weeks that were completely out of sync with how threatened you were in that actual moment.

That’s because we have powerful imaginations – and our detailed thoughts about everything that could go wrong can trigger unpleasant feelings.

IMPORTANT FACT: We can’t control our thoughts – or feelings!

So if we can’t control our “negative” feelings, what should we do?

Well, here are 3 key steps. You can:

  1. Work to become aware of, notice and gradually change unhelpful beliefs and habitual thoughts that trigger you.
  2. Take good care of your feelings when they do arise and threaten to take you over.
  3. Avoid unnecessary negative stimuli – like too much watching the news or reading articles.
The Big Idea:

Feelings just are. Your job is simply to take good care of your feelings when they arise.

And below is a simple process so you can be a compassionate, comforting presence for yourself – and importantly, release your feelings and emotions in a healthy way.

Finally, remember that it takes Fierce Kindness to look at, validate and allow our feelings. If it were easy – everyone would already be doing it.

Know that your feelings are an important part of who you are. By getting to know, acknowledging and allowing your feelings – you become more authentically you.

Here are The 3 As to Process Difficult Feelings and Emotions

This “3 As” technique will help you identify and compassionately work through your feelings and emotions, so they don’t get stuck. You can do this ‘in your head’ or during meditation, but I recommend journalling or writing it down to get the full benefit.

First, choose somewhere quiet and comfortable – if you’re stuck at home with other people you may need to put headphones on with some gentle instrumental (no words) background music. Then take a few deep breaths to slow down, and (with or without your journal), follow the 3 steps below:

1) Awareness:

Imagine you’re looking at your feelings and emotions with a flashlight – and discovering what’s there. Ask yourself simple questions to get clear on WHAT you are feeling.

  • WHAT: A good place to start is, “What do I feel in my body – and where do I feel it?” (for example, a sinking feeling in my stomach, butterflies in my chest, tightness in my throat, jaw tension)
  • NAME IT: It helps to put a name or label on our feeling. Try asking, “What is the name for what I’m feeling right now?” and “What else am I feeling?” and “What else?” and “What else?”

TIP: While it can be helpful to figure out “Why” we’re feeling something, this leads us into analysis and thinking – and AWAY from feeling. To soothe ourselves, we simply need to know what we’re feeling and allow/feel it. You can always come back to the “why” later.

2) Acknowledge:

This is not about fixing or doing anything, but acknowledging what you’re feeling. This is about witnessing your pain so that the “afraid” part of you feels validated and supported. Then it will be able to relax!

  • ACKNOWLEDGE to yourself,”So, I’m feeling X and Y and Z”.
  • VALIDATE your feelings. Try, “This is really _____ (hard/painful/difficult), no wonder you’re _____ (scared/worried/frustrated)”.
  • You can also go a little deeper and ask, “So, what is it like for me to feel like these feelings?” (probably scary or threatening) and then acknowledge that.
3) Allow:

This the simplest, but hardest step. Feelings can be painful and are often irrational – so of course we try to avoid feeling them! But it’s the very avoidance of feeling (what we already feel!) that keeps us stuck. Working through our feelings is as simple as sitting with – and allowing them.

    • It takes a lot of Fierce Kindness to do this – but just sit with your experience for a moment.
    • Notice what you feel and ALLOW it. You may cry or get upset and that’s OK (it’s part of the releasing process).
      TIP: It’s important that you stay WITH the process. Simply compassionately support and BE with yourself as you release your feelings and emotions.
    • Use your ‘gut-feeling’ to decide when to move on – wait until you notice a physical shift in your body or how you feel.
    • To wrap-up you can ask yourself “How was that experience – and how do I feel now?”
    • You can also ask, “What can I learn from this experience?”

TIP: Our logical mind may try to tell us we shouldn’t cry or feel as deeply as we do! But think how you feel when someone tells you that you shouldn’t feel something: “Don’t be upset honey!” Grrrrr.

Wrap-up

Yes, our “negative” emotions feel physically icky. And no-one wants to feel awful, be seen as irrational or burst into tears at an awkward moment. It’s why we try so hard as a species to be logical. But of course it doesn’t work.

Stuffing negative feelings down only makes us feel worse – and over the long-term can lead to depression and anxiety. Again, I have personal experience of this!

Although it’s hard in the beginning, the better we get at processing and allowing our feelings, the easier it becomes.

And after trying this “3 As” process – getting to know yourself, acknowledging the truth and allowing what you feel – you should feel lighter. Then you’ll be able to continue your day from a place of authenticity and inner strength and integrity – instead of from fear and avoidance!

Important:

If the feeling you’re processing relates to a deep or abusive situation or if you’re feeling emotionally fragile or stuck, you may need to talk this through with a therapist or counsellor who is trained to help. You don’t have to do this alone – and often it’s better if you don’t!

And ask for help from loved ones if you need to: You may realise you need a hug, or that you need to talk to someone who loves you. This is perfectly OK. Now you can go to someone you trust and say, “Im feeling X, can I talk to you about it /get a hug?” *

* Another layer of complexity is the societal idea that being independent and self-reliant is the highest achievement! People who need help are seen as weak or grabby – and well, just less. Nothing could be further from the truth. People who rely on others, who ask for help when they need it, who have feelings – and a need to share these with others are simply HUMAN!

Yes, blindly sharing whatever we’re feeling whenever we’re feeling it can be unkind to others, but it’s all about finding a balance. We must try to take care of ourselves first, and then reach out when we need some outside perspective, validation or a little extra support.

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Image of Thoughtful woman journaling through feelings by Wayhome Studio via Shutterstock

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