It's true no one teaches us how to deal with our feelings. Or if they do, it's by mistake. Often we learn what to do with feelings as children by watching our parents' management of their emotions, or from messages we get from teachers, peers, or the media.
When I ask my clients how do they feel about certain situations, what are they supposed to do when they feel angry, sad, or worried, or what did they learn about the right way to handle these emotions, rarely, do they have answers. I think I probably wouldn't know either if I hadn't seen the need a therapist.
One of the first things I introduce my clients to is the idea that they probably need a coherent theory for dealing with their emotions in their lives.
RAIN is the theory I teach. Emotions are like weather patterns. When the conditions are right, they will happen. I am not a meteorologist, so I can't really do this metaphor justice, but I know when certain things happen outside it rains, or it snows, or it's windy. Same with emotions. When the causes and conditions are right, we feel anger, or sadness or worry.
Everyone has different causes and conditions, so that's important to recognize. Your background, your biology, your thought patterns, your environment how much sleep you've had, whether your hungry, all of these things contribute to the creation of your particular emotion at a particular point in time.
Looking at feelings this way can help remove some of the judgment that many of us have of ourselves when we have difficult feelings. Also, it's important to know that we can influence how we act when we have these feelings, and we can influence how we think when we have these feelings, and ultimately after a great deal of work, we can also influence the intensity of some of our most uncomfortable feelings, but , paradoxically, we have to be willing to feel them first.
Most of the time many of us are walking around not even aware of how feelings are dictating our choices. When feelings are painful we try to bury them, avoid them or distract ourselves, or we discharge them through anger and blame. When something is pleasant we chase after it and try to hang on to it.
Mindfulness, which is about paying attention on purpose, and self-compassion, which is about doing it in a kind, understanding, and non-judgmental way, give us the choice to see how we are making decisions in our lives that are making us happy or unhappy based on avoiding uncomfortable feelings or chasing after good ones.
It's hard work, but often the work that people come to therapy to do. Feelings are patterns that arise naturally based on causes and conditions. You can use mindfulness and self-compassion to discover what those causes, conditions and patterns are.
The letters in the acronym RAIN stand for:
R – Recognize what is happening
A – Accept and Allow life to be just as it is
I – Investigate inner experience with kindness
N – Nurture
RAIN is the acronym used to explain a mindful way to process emotions.
Learning how to recognize your feelings and then accept them is usually the first step to working with feelings from a mindfulness and self-compassion framework.
Recognizing feelings can take some time. If you are not used to naming feelings a list of feelings can come in handy. You can learn to identify feelings by naming them, but also by recognizing their feelings in your body. This site has a great list.
Acceptance or allowance is a mindfulness strategy that includes not doing anything with those feelings once you recognize them. Usually we are reacting to feelings unconsciously. We are stuffing them, or avoiding them, or actively refusing to feel them somehow by trying to get rid of them or by blaming someone else. Accepting them is simply opening to the experience of the feelings in your body and making room for the experience in your mind. Having an attitude of understanding and compassion for yourself if it is a painful feeling can help tremendously with the process of acceptance.
To help with this, I use the image of the school bus and a child getting off the school bus. What is the first thing you would do for a child who was coming home from school felt the way you feel ( sad, scared, hurt, angry) and it was your job to greet them after their day?
Usually, the response is to hug and comfort the child. Sometimes this image is not helpful, and it is easier to think about what you would do for a best friend or someone you loved who was feeling this difficult feeling. Part of acceptance is being able to sooth and comfort yourself so you can stay still in the feeling and not try to deny or get rid of it.
The step of allowing or accepting a feeling may seem silly, but identifying feelings and accepting them is key to making wise decisions in your life. Emotions can informative, and can contain wise information. Many of my clients start to see destructive and unhealthy patterns in their lives when they practice mindfulness and #selfcompassion because they are actually able to see how the choices they are making in their lives are driven by their unfelt emotions rather than by what is their best interest. Spending time on the R and the A in RAIN is worth it.
The I of RAIN stands for investigating. During this process, we are focusing on making the unconscious conscious so we can have more control over our behavior in our daily life. Normally, our feelings are influencing our behavior, but to a large extent, we are unaware of this. Breathing in and out slowly and calmly so you can intentionally relax can be helpful for you throughout this process. Some questions to ask during the investigation phase are:
During this part of RAIN, I ask my clients to play the role of the curious scientist. So often, our inner experience is causing us to make decisions that are not in our best interest. The uncomfortable emotions keep us constantly in motion, usually making poor decisions because we are trying not to feel them or to get rid of them. The RAIN process helps us to slow down and begin to really take a good look at what might be happening, so we can make wise and skillful choices that are in our best interests.
The N of RAIN stands for Nurture. The next step in RAIN is to practice self-compassion for your experience. Mindful processing of emotions is not always easy. Sometimes we don't like what we feel or notice, although it's always better to live our lives awake rather than asleep. Offering an attitude of kindness to ourselves can happen in several ways. We can say words of kindness, practice generating the feeling of kindness, or even simply put our hand on our heart as a gesture of kindness. Each one of these attempts to nurture kindness can be a good way to end this process.
I incorporate a self-compassion journal with my clients when teaching them RAIN. This is an exercise Kristen Neff uses with her clients. Here is the link to her directions for the journal.
I have found this tool works works to teach the skills of self-compassion and replace the self-critical voice. You can pick anything that causes you distress, from an emotion that is uncomfortable to a specific incident that occurred where you found yourself being self-critical. Uncomfortable emotions are appropriate to write about because often when we have uncomfortable emotions we turn on ourselves and become self-critical. For example, if you are angry you may be saying to yourself " I shouldn't be so angry." There can be a subtle turning against ourselves when we have uncomfortable emotions. At first, you may want to write about simple things such as spilling your coffee or parking outside of the lines in a parking space, and as you get the hang of it, you can progress to something more difficult.
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