Humans are complex beings. And we are capable of experiencing all the emotional seasons in one day, sometimes even one emotion on top of another – messily coexisting in the very same moment. Laughing at something funny whilst grieving the loss of a loved one or feeling angry about one aspect of your life, whilst also feeling at peace with others. It’s like having one foot on the brake and the other on the accelerator. In the midst of this emotional spin-cycle it can feel exhausting, disorientating and really very confusing.
One approach we use in therapy to normalise this confusing state is to work with what is called ‘parts of self’. If you pay attention to some of your thoughts or even things you say out loud to people you might recognise these sorts of sentiments: “there’s a part of me that feels really excited about this new relationship but there’s another part of me that’s really scared about what it means for me and my life”, or “part of me is really sad about saying goodbye but I’m also relieved and grateful that it’s over.” (If you need another way to connect to this concept, I really encourage you to watch the Disney Pixar film ‘Inside Out’ – it’s definitely not just for the kids.) You see, to experience these conflicting emotional states is actually integral to being human – our challenge is about how not to get too stuck or distressed by them. Life is not a one emotional size fits all situations kind of experience!
Working with conflicting emotions:
The first step in navigating this complex situation is to recognise that experiencing competing and conflicting emotions is actually a really very natural and common state of being. What we definitely don’t need is to add any additional complexity by judging the experience of it! And, once we acknowledge the normalcy of the experience, the more likely we are to notice how very common it is – once you embrace it, you’ll probably notice it more so make space for that experience too.
The second step is stepping outside of the emotions for just long enough to be able to notice and name what’s happening and maybe even be able to identify which ‘part’ they might be connected to. (If you want to read a little more on ‘parts work’ click HERE.) Bonus points if you can attach those emotions and / or parts to a physical sensation i.e., “I’m noticing that part of me is feeling really anxious and that is showing up as a sensation in my stomach that feels like butterflies.” Usually, when you step through this process with one part / emotion then the conflicting one will almost immediately show up. It’s like a pack of squawking seagulls sometimes shouting, “and me!”
Then comes the fun bit – navigating these conflicting parts. Most of the time, if you can simply acknowledge the opposing emotions and allow them both to show up and be present without judgement a natural settling will occur. Things get a bit trickier if we experience something akin to emotional gridlock – that state of one foot on the accelerator and one on the brake we mentioned earlier. This process, coined the ‘Four Aces’ is one approach you could try:
- Accept that life is full of ups and downs.
- Accept the part of your life that is not working and embrace and celebrate the parts that are.
- Accept that it is OK to have this dissonance.
- Assess what is in your control and let go of what isn’t.
- Assess the best course of action at the time to cope with the difficult part of your life.
- Assess who are the right people (therapists, friends) to help you manage the part of you that’s down.
- Adapt to your internal situation by acknowledging it.
- Adapt to your circumstances with regulating strategies such as breathwork, meditation or exercise.
- Adapt to holding opposing feelings without resistance.
- Adopt a perspective that is helpful to your sense of wellbeing.
- Adopt an approach where you count your blessings every day.
- Adopt the notion of emotional fluidity, knowing that emotional discomfort is impermanent.
If you need support around your own conflicting emotions, we have a team of experienced therapists at Thea Baker Wellbeing – please reach out to us at: email@example.com / 03 9077 8194.