How to Clear Painful Emotions

This article will explore how to clear painful emotions that are bound to be stimulated while we are going through this difficult time.

Heart drawn in the sand to illustrate emotion. Photo by Khadeeja Yasser on

If you have been following a healthy daily routine and some of the techniques for calming the mind you will be finding it easier to stay focused and restfully aware and capable of making positive choices.

During this pandemic, the whole world is living with underlying feelings of anxiety, fear and insecurity that are simmering beneath the surface. They have become part of our collective consciousness and even despite a regular meditation practice we can find it difficult to stay grounded, present, and accepting of the situation as it is. As we know it is only when we can accept the situation without defensiveness that we can find positive solutions. Our emotional buttons are bound to be pressed and we need to be gentle and compassionate with ourselves at the same time as being conscious and attentive to our feelings. Even though we might be more evolved than we used to be there are plenty of opportunities to embrace being humbly human. I am comforted by these words from Hafiz.

It is always a danger for aspirants on the path,
When they begin to think and act as if the 10,000 idiots
That for so long lived and ruled inside,
Have all packed their bags, skipped town, or died.

So, an emotional button is pressed, our minds go into overwhelm, the gap between thoughts where we hear the whispers of intuition, inspiration and creativity shrink and our awareness becomes constricted. Fight or flight hormones of adrenalin and cortisol flood our systems and we change from being a reasonable human being into a lunatic, turning a seemingly insignificant incident into an old story that stimulates our worst nightmare.

I will give you two examples from my own life to guide you into your own processes.

Story one is light-hearted and easy for everyone to relate to and only requires a few simple steps to process.

Story two is a much juicier, nitty gritty and personal stress response that requires a bit more attention and a lot of self-exploration.

Story 1 Trolly trouble at the supermarket during Lockdown

So, do I wash my hair and have a bath before going out or shall I do this afterwards to wash off the killer virus? No! After being a hermit for a week with no-one in sight I will do my hell of a good job at getting ready as it will make me feel better. At the supermarket I encounter lots of masked looking aliens with sunglasses. I think I recognise someone who I greet warmly. We are delighted at the human connection, after being starved of it for more than a month, but they have no idea who I am. It is a case of mistaken identity. This gives new power to “opening doors with just a smile” and becomes opening doors with mask and dark glasses. So, after trolley wiping and antiseptic hand spray, I am ready for battle.

I notice that people seem to be darting in and out of lanes and nobody is paying attention to the 2 meters rule. I can feel anger starting to percolate. “This is bloody stupid comes to mind. The world has gone mad.” My pleasant convivial demeanour turns into a closed off angry stomp as I demonstrate social distancing with jerky exaggerated body language. People are so caught up in raiding the shelves that nobody notices, fortunately. I fill my trolley with all my healthy organic fair but consider I need some treats to cheer me up. I buy some quite expensive 15 year old compte cheese and kid myself that it is filled with pro-biotics, dark chocolates with fruit and nuts, low sugar of course, and a bottle of Saint Emillion wine, but it is organic so that’s fine. I do live in France after all.

I pack my car with the shopping and leave it open while I return my trolley and do the antiseptic routine again. I notice a man on the pavement next to my car who looks dishevelled and is busy packing food into a wheeler bag. When I return home and start unpacking the groceries I consider “That’s funny I thought I bought more items.” I find all the fruit and vegetables, but the unusual treats have disappeared.

The story began. “Oh, that homeless looking man must have stolen them. He wouldn’t want all the healthy stuff so of course he stole the wine, chocolates and cheese. “The Bastard “I thought. Now I felt angry at him and myself for my graceless reaction, a double whammy, and now I felt guilty as well. “Then I thought so maybe I would feel better if I considered that he needed it more than me. But then he should have asked and not just taken it. I decided it was also the supermarkets fault for not being diligent enough with security. In my stressed state I decided to go back to the supermarket and complain.

Fortunately, I calmed myself down with some deep breaths. I need to be logical about this. I checked through the cupboard to find out exactly what items had been pinched so I could report them. The missing items were not on the list. I realised I must have put them in someone else’s trolley.” I thought the story I had concocted was hilarious and someone else would have discovered some very expensive treats in their shopping bag when they got home. I felt sorry for the poor innocent man who might have received all my wrath and was very relieved that I had not embarrassed myself by confronting him or the supermarket staff.

This is an example of how we project underlying feelings onto innocent situations and create a story in our minds that we are convinced is true.

Situations like this can seem superficial but they can easily lead to loosing the house keys or even a car accident and create stress inducing habits of thought. With a few simple steps situations like this can easily be averted, but if we don’t pay attention, they can drain our precious life energy. After a while our immune system is out of balance and we no longer have the positive energy to put towards something useful, creative and fun.

If I had faced and processed the simmering emotions of anxiety and fear before they built up then I would not have projected them onto an outside experience. We will do this during story 2.

When I first observed the situation at the supermarket. I could have distanced myself for a few minutes by going outside into the fresh air, felt the feelings as sensations in my body and taken a few long slow breaths. Breathing in, holding breath for 4, allowing the feelings to flow through me before releasing them with a long slow exhale. In a few moments I could have centred myself.

Having released the emotions and calmed myself down. I would have been able to look at the facts with a clear mind and seek creative solutions.

I could have made a polite suggestion to the staff that it might be safer if they observed the distancing rules and maybe made an announcement to keep themselves and others safe. I could decide to go to a different supermarket or take extra precautions to keep myself safe.

I would then have been more conscious of my actions and not accidentally put my shopping into someone else’s trolley or risked light fingers by leaving my car open when I went to put the trolley back.

During this time, we could remind ourselves that the only constant in life is change and this uncertainty causes us to re-evaluate what is important in our lives. It is so easy to get lost in the chaotic drive of everyday life and this unusual time gives us the opportunity to go inwards and re- connect to the infinite intelligence that flows through all things, connect to the deeper voice of soul that once called us into existence. We have this opportunity to form healthy new intentions from the deeper level of what we would love to create in our lives, what we were born to create. We can take an inventory of our gifts and skills and consider how we can adapt them to this new way of life that we are being summoned to embrace. We can trust that when we are coming from our true calling a greater power than our own will support us. We will feel vital because we are being true to ourselves.

Story 2 Daughters very sensibly set up a group chat with me and my ex-husband of 15 years to share COVID-19 details.

“Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more.” Nothing like an ex as an accomplished and time tested button pusher, a past divorce that still carries some unprocessed pain, children we both love dearly and who are used to seeing us separately and a financial crisis to stir things up. Thank you, life, for giving me this perfect opportunity for personal growth.

Step 1. Journal what happened as if reporting the facts

One daughter had just left France as lockdown was announced, the other had to cancel her trip along with other family members and friends. The nature of the texts on the group chat were logical, factual, helpful but distant. My ex sent a few very clever text comments using his dry sense of humour that I could easily take personally. Clients for healing and rental business were cancelling their reservations and I was having to return their deposits.

Take responsibility for what you are feeling

We can see that the circumstances are a trigger for a heavy bag of underlying feelings

It is easy to go into victim mode. It is someone else’s fault! The circumstance or the person needs to change and then I will feel better. We might be waiting a lifetime. The first step is to take responsibility. This does not mean that it is my fault or that someone else did or didn’t do something wrong, just that it is my emotion, affecting my body and they are my buttons that have been pressed. I can’t kill the postman as he or the situation is just the deliverer of my stuff, my pain that I have not processed.

Identify the emotion.

“I feel sad, lonely, angry, insecure, fearful, powerless, and maybe even guilty
Witness the feelings in your body.”

Emotions are feelings in motion that are stimulated by thoughts and they release stress hormones throughout our bodies. We need to feel the emotions, to dissipate some of the emotional charge before we can process them.

Observe the sensations in your body. Put your hand on the area of your body where you are feeling the emotion and say to yourself, “I feel it here.” Feel the message the emotion is carrying. Breathe into it.

I feel the sadness and loneliness in my heart.
I feel the anger as a headache
I feel the powerlessness in my throat.
I feel the fear and overwhelm as an all over stress reaction followed by weakness.
I recognise the guilt as stored pain that has not been processed.

Express the emotions in private to yourself

Our meditation practice is a precious gift to ourselves as we begin to recognise that we are the conscious observer and not the maniac that we are observing. We can see this as a temporary behaviour pattern rather than the core truth of who we are. This gives us the courage to confront emotional pain as it occurs and release some of the stored pain that we are still burying inside our bodies and minds.

It is quite a good idea to write about your feelings in a journal. Empty your heart completely. It is easier to witness yourself when you write it all down. Memories from similar circumstances will be stimulated by your emotions so write these down too. Often you will reveal things that were hidden, and the solutions may come during the writing as you witness them.

I feel sad and lonely, as I miss the connection and joy I feel when I am sharing with my loved ones and I don’t know when I will see them again. My father is not well, and this may have been his last opportunity to visit. I am not even sure “if” I will see him again. I feel very disappointed that my friends have had to cancel their trips. I had been looking forward to these joyous connections all through the winter months. France is so beautiful during Springtime and I appreciate it more when I can share it with others.

I am angry because my needs for connection are not being met by the group chat and I feel I can’t be free flowing and myself with my children as I am very sensitive to perceived criticism from my ex.

I feel fearful. I don’t know how I am going to survive.

I feel powerless as I may need to ask my ex for a loan, and I should be able to manage my own financial affairs. I am also concerned for my health. I am angry at myself for having to give my power away to my ex. I am angry with him that he gives me such a hard time over this and understandably wants to know the finite details of my future plans when I have managed alone for many years and nobody can know for sure what the future holds. I am angry with myself for the situation I find myself in.

I feel guilty that after all the work I have done I find myself struggling to cope. I feel guilty that I am unable to handle an innocent chat set up by my daughters as a safety measure.

Express the emotions in private to yourself

If you don’t feel comfortable with this, you can talk to your pet or use a talking object such as a stone to remind yourself to speak openly and honestly.

If someone else is involved then consider the situation from their point of view.

My ex is intelligent, logical and organised and these qualities have enabled him to get through life in a way he can handle. He does not try to understand the complex world of emotions and does not want to. He respects that I am better at handling this area of life. If he is giving me a loan during this difficult time and wants a finite report of my plans, then I need to respect his needs.

I need to respect that my way of manifesting in the world is entirely different and works for me. I should not ask him to change the fundamentals of who he is or expect more from him than he is prepared to give, just as he should not expect me to change the fundamentals of who I am. I can’t rely on him to meet my emotional needs as it is no longer something he wants to embrace. I need to embrace my own emotional needs. Although it is something I don’t want to face. I can’t keep him in the background for a rainy day. I need to let go of past guilt and move on with my life.

Although I have a close relationship with my daughters and talk to them often, I need to respect that they have their own lives to live and I can’t rely on them to meet my needs for connection.

Release the emotion through some ritual

Beat a pillow or do an expressive dance that exaggerates your emotional states, breathe rapidly or go for a brisk walk in nature. While doing the activity, consciously release the emotional charge.

Listen for intuitive guidance

Once you have reduced the turbulence in your mind. Sit in calm awareness and listen for intuitive and creative guidance from your soul. One idea is to imagine yourself sitting peacefully in a beautiful garden or seascape, a special place where you can return anytime to find can find all the answers you need. Imagine a wise and compassionate being coming towards you or the highest expression of yourself. Greet them and ask if they would be willing to share with you. Ask your questions and listen to the wisdom that comes to you.

How can I love and nurture myself? How can I meet my needs for attention, affection, appreciation and acceptance? What are some actions I can take to feel my own power?

You can even dialogue with the part of your body where you are holding the restriction

As an example, I felt powerlessness in my throat. The answers that came to me were to trust my own voice. I have a right to be heard. I have wisdom and truth that someone might need. Everyone is going through emotional turbulence now. Write a blog to share your voice in the world.

Create healthy boundaries. Express my needs to others while embracing my vulnerability. Make requests rather than demands. Remember that every act of receiving gives someone else the joy of giving. In giving they experience the gift of their own power and connection to source. Sometimes we give and sometimes we receive.

I can have gratitude for all the gifts in my life right now.

All the answers you need exist within you once you can calm your mind and Listen to the soft loving voice of your soul.


Do something you love to do to celebrate the commitment you have made to personal growth. You could treat yourself to a bath perfumed with essential oils followed by a nurturing self-massage or dance and sing to your favourite music. You could treat yourself occasionally to some 15 year old compte cheese and a glass of Saint Emillion or a chocolate after supper while watching a good film on Netflix.

I walk in the forest behind my house. I feel rejuvenated by the electromagnetic energy of the earth grounding me. I feel liberated in the spaciousness and infinity of the sky, rejuvenated by the power and warmth of the sun and in awe of the trees, flowers and birdsong. I am reminded to celebrate life and have gratitude for all the beauty and joy that is so freely given.

A Forest Walk – Penny Burns 2020

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