Emotion Expression Exercise

This is Not Journaling

There are many benefits to journaling and there are many ways to keep a personal journal but this exercise isn’t one of them.

This is about expressing – getting out – the hard stuff inside. The difficult, troubling, painful, traumatic, messy, ugly, rageful, embarrassing, scary stuff. And, it’s about letting it go.

Pent Up Repressed Emotions

We have a serious problem in our culture – many of us don’t feel and process our emotions, especially the difficult ones. I hesitate to say ‘negative’ because that may make some emotions sound bad or wrong.

From a young age, many of us learn that feeling and expressing emotions like anger, sadness, or fear, isn’t acceptable, which made us feel unacceptable and that resulted in shame. This is especially true if those very emotions were repressed in ones parents or caregivers.

Repressed emotions are linked with mental and physical health issues like anxiety, depression, chronic pain, digestive issues, lowered immune function and much more. Please see the list below summarizing a list of common physiological manifestations of the repression of emotion (source: Alan Abbass)

Supporting Your Resilience

As a self leadership coach and resilience trainer, I help my clients learn better ways to manage their inner worlds, so they can cultivate greater resilience and wellbeing. In my own pursuit and quest for life enhancing practices, I kept stumbling upon Expressive Writing as a powerful and proven tool.

The following adapted exercise is inspired by the works of James Pennebaker, Howard Schubiner, David Hanscom, and Alan Abbass.

I call this process RIP Notes where RIP stands for Rip In Pieces.

RIP Notes
(Rip in Pieces)

Emotion Expression Exercise

Part 1

Set a timer for 10-15 minutes. Spend a moment or two to get present. Ground yourself.

Go within and conjure up any difficult thoughts and feelings you have about anything or anyone. Could be something that happened yesterday or 20 years ago. Could be something you fear might happen. Could be something you want to do to someone. Just conjure it up and start writing about it freely.

Express – get out – whatever is inside, without analysis or inhibition. Just keep writing. Could be messy and illegible, which is fine, as you won’t go back to read it. Just write.

If you get off track and start thinking and making plans or analyzing or making a to-do list for the day, just come back to your deepest emotions. They don’t have to make any sense and you don’t have to approve of them. If you don’t approve of them, write about that too – write about the embarrassment or the guilt or the shame or the anxiety.

Just write about anything honestly – thoughts and feelings you wouldn’t share with anyone.

Do your best to write including emotion/feeling words – anger, hate, fear, rage, sadness, pain, guilt, shame, hurt, love, frustrated, irritated, anxious, scared, sorry, etc. Try to feel those feelings and write them down.

When the timer has rung, don’t read over what you wrote. Rip it into pieces so that no one will be able to read it, then discard them safely so you have peace of mind that the words expressed will not be found and put back together and read by anyone. Not even you.

Part 2

Close your eyes and do some deep belly breathing, while focusing your attention on your heart. Slow way down. 10 cycles.

Connect with yourself and conjure up compassion for the parts of you that feel those feelings and emotions.  Do your best not to judge them.

Now spend 10 more minutes bringing understanding to yourself/your-parts, – is there anything you understand now in a different way? Realize anything different? Any idea of some action/s to take? Or ability to do something in a different way moving forward? Any people coming up in mind that you might want to talk to or address differently? Any actions to take to assert new or more effective boundaries? Things to stop doing? Things to start doing?

Even if you get just one thing – one realization or one new intention – even if you get nothing at all, notice and acknowledge what it’s like to really be there for yourself – your whole self – for all your emotions and feelings with acceptance and compassion.

Do this daily for life or give it a good test run for about 6 weeks and take note of any changes/improvements in your experience of life (see Part 3).

Part 3

At any point in time, take note of any new emotions, or emotions you rarely experienced before cropping up – perhaps like joy or peace or contentment.

  • Take note of any issues you may need more help with.
  • Take note of any changes in mood, mindset or attitude.
  • Take note of any changes in the physical body – reductions or changes in aches, pains, irritations, inflammation, etc.
  • Discuss any changes you feel called to with your coach, therapist, growth partner or a trusted friend.

If you found this helpful, consider doing it every day or every few days for life.

If you like, here is a downloadable version – RIP NOTES.

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