Emotional Mastery: Surfing Unpleasant Emotions

I was watching a TED Talk on YouTube about Emotional Mastery: The Gifted Wisdom of Unpleasant Feelings. Emotional mastery of these feeling states is a timely question as we deal with a Pandemic, teaching children from home, and struggling with the uncertainty of our social, financial future. Knowing how to manage unpleasant emotions is always a key question for our mental health and success in life.

Unpleasant emotions include feelings of shame, guilt, anger, sadness, anxiety, depression, fear, and grief, to name a few.

The TED Talk speaker explores how emotional mastery is demonstrated by our ability to move past/through these unpleasant emotions and not be shut down or run from them.

By “move through,” she refers to the neuroscience idea that when an emotional feeling gets triggered, chemicals flood the body, activating bodily sensations that can put into a survival state of fight, flight, and freeze. Interestingly, we experience these unpleasant emotions in our bodies before we cognitively understand them. The body always reacts first, fast, and defensively. If unpleasant feelings come from a traumatic event, we will develop emotional programs that will be set in the body to protect us from other unpleasant feelings or situations. We may make a conscious vow to never “trust people again,” be put “into an embarrassing situation ever again,” or “never take such a risk like that again” to further protect ourselves from such unpleasantness. Emotional programs (from the unconscious body-mind) and cognitive vows (from the conscious thinking-mind) paint us into a corner. Although they protect, they also prevent us from growth and success.

The goal is to “move through” unpleasant emotions and not avoid or dissociate from them. To do this, we have to “surf” the wave of bodily chemical sensations and stand up on the board of our own conscious choices. That unpleasant wave of chemicals only lasts 60-90 seconds. That is less time that a song on the radio, explains the psychologist from the TED Talk. Unpleasant emotions rush and then flush from the body.

It is the fight or flight from unpleasant emotions that make the waves more significant and more threatening than they are, and the vicious cycle of the more chemical reaction and mental obsessions continue.

How do we “move through” emotionally unpleasant feelings? The psychologists claim that the uncomfortable sensations are like a wave of chemicals that go through us like a wave. It lasts only 60-90 seconds and then dissipates. Rush and then flushed by the body.

Different unpleasant emotions have different patterns of waves: Grief has waves after waves. Anger is perhaps a big roaring wave. Sadness is a slow, lingering wave. Shame a sneaky, rip curl of a wave. But all of them come and go. We can get back on the beach and feel stable again. The beach is the place of acceptance in this metaphor.

The speaker’s recommendation is to learn to surf the unpleasant waves, let them rise, and then let them retreat. Stop fighting them, fleeing them, or freezing in the middle of them. With consistent practice, insights into life and your character will develop. The speaker describes how we will be better able to pursue the goals you dreamed about, have courageous conversations, and feel more conformable in your skin. Surfing them won’t take a lifetime. It only takes a moment. The present now where change always starts.

If you would like more information on how to surf the waves of unpleasant emotions, schedule a one-on-one session with Ron here or take a FamilyHealer.tv course at your convenience.

Dealing with the Soul and Emotions

Everyone struggles with how to deal with their emotions. This is especially challenging for children whose neurological development has not matured to the point that they can use more rational thinking to deal with their emotions. It becomes even more problematic if our children have suffered a traumatic event or experienced toxic stress. 

Trauma and toxic stress impair all areas of development for children causing them to act and think below their chronological age. We call this gap “Age vs. Stage” to reference how a 16-year-old can act socially and emotionally like a 6-year-old. Often, the age that the child experienced the trauma is the emotional age they get stuck at even while the rest of them advance in years. This can open the eyes for many caregivers who are puzzled by the age vs stage problem. 

Adults don’t always have good solutions to this problem, however. We may not really know how to manage our own emotions. Perhaps we have had our own trauma that shuts us down when overwhelmed by stress or we haven’t had many examples of what healthy, responsible adults do with their intense feelings and so, we limp along with our own developmental journey. 

What most adults do is stuff their feelings. They might do this by dissociating from their bodily reactions and disconnect from extreme feelings of intimacy or closeness. They might push the feelings down until the boil over in a fit of rage, with everyone around the just waiting for the next volcanic explosion. They might try to be super reasonable and lecture their family and be perfectionistic with expectations no one can live up to. 

The healthier answer is not to try and live from our emotions at all! The secret is that you can change your emotions by changing what you believe. When you wake up in the morning, don’t ask yourself “How do I feel today?” Ask yourself, instead “What do I believe today?”

Families who are faith-based believe many things they don’t always practice. For example, we believe that God will take care of all our needs but we spend hours being worried. Our beliefs must go deeper into our subconscious minds where habits exist. You don’t think about how to do certain things in life, like driving your car or make dinner, because those thought structures are set in our subconscious mind so that we can spend more energy on other conscious thoughts and actions. Practicing what we preach has to become a natural reaction to life’s challenges as well. 

Faith-based families have a strange distrust of their own souls as well. Our souls comprise our body, mind, and will. Perhaps we distrust them because we haven’t changed our subconscious habits yet. This will be an on-going process, for sure, and one we can start modeling for our children as well. We also have to live healthy lifestyles, eating good food, engaging in playful activities, and getting rest and exercise. 

Our beliefs allow us to overcome shame from our past. This is what causes traumatized children (and adults) from believing they deserve a good life because they are unworthy of love, unwanted by biological parents, and damaged in some way – maybe many ways. This negative belief results in the sabotage of success, self-injurious behavior, suicidal ideations, depression, anxiety, and fear. This list could go on…

God’s mercies are supposed to be “new every morning” and the same level of grace should be extended to ourselves as well as to other. We need to offer this to our traumatized children, as well. Whatever happened yesterday must be forgiven and our thought life must be taken captive. 

A powerful tool for ourselves and for our families is to make biblical declarations – out loud! Life or death is on the tongue and what we say can steer the direction of our lives (Proverbs 18:21; James 3). Speaking out our new beliefs is an act of faith because we may not feel that what we are saying is true but we are not letting our emotions guide our beliefs, we are letting our beliefs direct our emotions. 

Renewing the mind is how we are to live our faith governed lives and it is a continual process of maturity for our children and will help to close the age vs. stage gap (Romans 12:1-1). 

Start your declarations with the words “I believe” and see what happens to your own mindset as well as to your child’s attitude and behaviors.

“I believe” that I have all the grace I need to face any challenge or problem that comes up for me today.

“I believe” that I am worthy of love and the love of God, who is love, overflows from me to everyone I encounter today.

“I believe” that I am trustworthy, kind, and tenderhearted. I am able to forgive other people who have hurt by and not live in bitterness or seek revenge. 

  • “I believe” that my prayers are powerful.
  • “I believe” I am great at relationships and making friends.
  • “I believe”  that my family is blessed and I am a blessing to everyone around me.
  • “I believe” God is on my side and doesn’t hate me or punish me. 
  • “I believe” I can think right thoughts and make good decisions.
  • “I believe” that I am successful and have the ability to think and act creatively today.
  • “I believe” today is a new day, full of new mercies, and I can be happy and rejoice in it. 
  • “I believe” that the joy of the Lord is my strength. 
  • “I believe” I do not have a spirit of fear and God gives me power, love, and a sound mind. 
  • “I believe” that I can control what I say and everything from my lips speak love, live, and encouragement. 
  • “I believe” that I can remember everything I am studying and will accomplish everything that needs to get down today. 
  • “I believe” that believing the truth sets me free of fear and depression. 

Don’t worry if you don’t always feel what you say is true. Don’t be concerned or deterred if your children don’t agree with your declarations, at first. I believe that if you practice these declarations and start to create your own personal list that you will see incredible changes in your own heart and the heart of your family, today and over time!

Take a free online course to help your family heal at FamilyHealer.tv

Are you Parenting a Prince or a Pauper?

Previously posted on Parenting Toolbox November 2014 by Ron Huxley, LMFT

There are areas in our parenting where we think like princes or princesses. We are fully confident in our abilities to handle a situation. There are also areas where we think like paupers, poor in attitude and low in confidence. A prince is rich in resources and doesn’t worry about a positive future. They know respect and honor from those around them. A pauper lives by survival skills and manipulation and secrecy is the game of life. A prince feels deserving of worthy and is valued and feels valuable. A pauper feels worthlessness, shame, and guilt.

Are you a consciously parenting a prince or a pauper? Do you feel confident and worthy to the task? Are you controlled by guilt, manipulation, and shame? Do you experience respect or disdain from your family members? Is your household ruled by love or fear?

It is possible to think like a prince in some areas of our lives and like a pauper in others at the same time. It may not be all of our parenting that suffers but there may be some key areas that are creating some big trouble. Take time to honestly evaluate where you are thinking like a prince or a pauper. Allow yourself to find new value and think differently about your family relationships. Create a self-care plan. Read, watch, listen or hang out with people who believe they are a prince and princess. They will model how to have a different mindset for parenting and life.

A parenting pauper has few or no tools to build a family of their dreams. A parenting prince or princess has many tools in their parenting toolbox. Get more parenting tools by using our online parenting ecourses in our Family Healer School!

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What is shame and how to heal?

By guest blogger: Stephanie Patterson, LMFT


According to researcher Brene Brown,

shame is defined as “the intensely painful experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.”

Shame has a strong visceral reaction. One person describes it as “that feeling in the pit of your stomach that is dark and hurts like hell. You can’t talk about it and you can’t articulate how bad it feels because then everyone would know your ‘dirty little secret.’” And yet we all experience it from time to time when one of our vulnerable spots gets triggered. For example, motherhood and body image can bring a feeling of shame to women; men commonly feel ashamed of being weak.

Shame is different from guilt.

Shame is believing one is bad, while guilt is believing one did something bad

This is an important distinction.

Parents often try to shame their children into obedience, mistakenly thinking shame is a great motivator. This could not be farther from the truth. Shame disconnects us from others.  It immobilizes us. It makes us feel weak.  We want to shrivel up into a little ball and disappear. When we call children names, when we say “You’re always…(anything negative)”, or if we say, “Don’t be a…. (wimp, cry baby, drama queen, etc.),” we are shaming our kids. When we tell children, teens, or grown up children that they ARE something, they usually believe it.  Then they wear that label and inwardly feel it is true about them. Make sure you are not telling them they are something bad. That is shaming.

On the other hand, feeling bad about doing something wrong can be a great motivator for change. The difference is that when you do something wrong, you yourself are not something wrong.

There is a fine but significant distinction.

In Brene Brown’s book I Thought it was Just Me (But it Isn’t), she shares her insights from years of studying shame and how to overcome it.

Here are her steps in a nutshell:

  1. Notice when one of your shame triggers is hit. Get to know what your body feels like and the thoughts that tend to run through your head when you feel shame.
  2. Reach out to someone you feel comfortable with. This person should be reliably supportive on the topic that you are feeling shame about. For example, I may go to my sister on topics of womanhood or dealing with family, but I may avoid topics of raising children if she sometimes makes unfavorable comparisons.
  3. The last step is the hardest: speaking shame. After you receive a healthy dose of empathy from your support person, you can then talk with the person who hurt your feelings. You can tell them what they said and how deeply it hurt you. When you are able to speak your truth about your shame, you disarm it.

We cannot always know which of our comments will hit someone’s shame target right on, but we can be fairly certain that when we respond to others with empathy, shame cannot exist. Empathy means listening to others, hearing the emotional undertone of their messages, and commenting on how the experience might feel to them. Empathy connects and heals. Shame severs and hurts.

We live in a broken world, full of broken families and broken hearts, resulting in anger, depression and anxiety. When people come to see a family therapist, they want change but they want other members of the family to change, not them. How much pain do we have to go through before we are willing to do something different than we have always done before? Listen to Ron Huxley, Family Therapist, as he shares some insights on how to create love and honor in the home to have real, permanent change in the family. 

Be sure to share this with a friend…

Parenting and Pain

Parenting & Pain

By Ron Huxley, LMFT

It is hard to be on top of our parenting game when you are in a lot of emotional pain. This is especially challenging if the origin of this pain comes from the children that we are trying to parent. It might be simplistic to say but the pain is “painful.” It hurts! It shuts us down and drives a wall between us and others so we can’t be hurt anymore. We want to retreat to nurse our wounds before risking more in relationships. Unfortunately, the everyday tasks of life have to be completed and our children continue to need us. As a compromise to this situation, we become robotic in our actions. We are hyper-functional but we are hypo-relational. We get stuff done but we are just going through the motions and have no emotions to share. We are too raw!

If you are in this place, make a resolution to find some help through good friends, therapists, doctors, etc. There are a lot of support groups and parenting educations classes in your community. Be determined not to repeat past problems. Find new ideas and new support to achieve new, less painful interactions with your family. Second, be OK with being in a place of pain but don’t let it define you. You feel bad but YOU are not bad. Hurtful feelings are normal responses to hurtful actions they are not meant to be permanent. You will have better days again but don’t allow shame to pull you deeper into that dark place of despair. Set some boundaries, find some help and get mad a shame. It is not your friend!

Shame On Me: How to Parent Without Shame or Blame

by Ron Huxley

The default mode of parenting is to use shame in a desperate attempt to regain control of our home and our children. It is not that parents enjoy using negative tactics. In fact, parents universally describe the “necessity” of using shame or other aggressive tactics because “nothing else seems to work.” Parents feel powerless in their own homes. 

Shame differs from guilt in that guilt is the feeling of “doing” a wrong behavior and shame is a sense that “I am wrong” from doing that wrong behavior. It creates an inner world of worthlessness, badness, and feeling damaged or defective. Shame comes from social messages that you are bad when you do bad things. It is backed up by social rejection and isolation from not meeting others expectations or the failure to perform in a certain way. Fear may be involved in both guilt and shame except that guilt is fear of punishment and shame results in fear of abandonment. 

Parents reveal to me the road of desperation they end up on…they start off asking nicely and have their requests ignored. They give choices but the choices are dismissed. They provide structure but the child kicks down the limits. All attempts to parent in a positive way, including the use of rewards and social praise, breaks down into the one thing that their children seem to respond to: shame!

Shame can give short term results but the long term price is emotional suffering for both parent and child. The home becomes a prison of fear and breeds discouragement and anger. It kills the spirit of the child and sets up an intergenerational pattern of negative communication that erodes self esteem and destroys intimate relationships for life. 

Debating with parents about long term results of shame is not productive either. Parents who feel they have no other recourse will not let go of their grip on the tool of shame because that just increases the powerlessness of the situation. Further exploration of a parents original parenting toolbox shows me that there was only had two or three parenting tools in there to start. As a child grows older and more independent, the parent quickly burns through their limited tools and they feel they have no options left but to reach to the bottom of the box and use negative forms of parenting. The tools got into the toolbox parents because that is often one used by their parents. They were controlled by shame and no they are using it despite vows to never parent the way they were parented. A simple solution to this dilemma is to add more tools to the parenting toolbox and train parents on how and when to use them the next time the noncooperation crops up and it will…

The good news about behavior problems is that if they popped up today, they will pop up again tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that, etc. They are predictable! This gives parents a chance to form new strategies and add new tools to try with their children. If one tools doesn’t work, set it back in the box and try a new one until cooperation can be found that doesn’t require a one punch system of control. Trust me, the problem will come up again giving you another opportunity to find a way to manage it positively. 

You can get over 100 parenting tools in Ron Huxley’s ebook by clicking here now! You can also hire Ron to coach you on how to use these tools and create new strategies for parenting with more positive results. Click here for more information on how to regain control in your home.