The 5 Stages of Handling Deep Emotions


October 6, 2012   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

Deep emotions can be difficult to deal with. 

But I have good news for you. 

Even the worst emotions aren’t you, and they aren’t yours.

They are experiences that make us stronger, more open more compassionate and more loving.

If we can embrace them we can embrace anything.

Several years ago my son and I were fishing in Northern Wisconsin.

We were trolling by one of our favorite spots and I had a strike.

I pride myself on being able to tell if I have hooked the bottom, a tree or branch, or have a fish.This time felt different, it wasn’t a snag but didn’t feel like a fish either. It seemed to be fighting and whatever it was it was really big.

It took over five minutes of fairly heavy struggle and winding before I caught a glance of my catch. It was a snapping turtle perhaps fifteen inches in diameter. It had taken my minnow and was hooked.

My light spinning rod bent as it never had before. I was not used to landing anything this big or this heavy.

I had to pay close attention. I had to keep the line tight and above all I had to use every skill I had learned over years of fishing not to lose this turtle.

I didn’t want the turtle. I wanted to land it and let it go. I wanted to unhook it safely and send it on its way.

I wanted to be able to deal with something much more difficult than a fish and I wanted my son and me to have the story of the day we caught the big turtle.

Our net wasn’t really up to the task but we managed it. We worked together and landed the huge snapper into the boat with great fanfare and excitement.

We let this old terrapin loose on the shore by our cottage. He swam deep and fast to his freedom as we watched and talked about our adventure.

The 5 Stages to Handling Deep Emotions

Landing this turtle reminded me of a few years earlier when I had struggled with deep emotions within myself. I had met, landed and released self hatred, shame and self doubt.

Each of these showed up in my life right on time, exactly when I didn’t want them. Each had a very different flavor and went through the same stages I had with the turtle.

The stages are as follows:

1. Deeply Moved But Blind, Deaf and Dumb

I didn’t know that I had a turtle, but I knew I had something and it was different than anything I ever had before.

Deep emotions take us over. 

They work so far below our surface that it may take quite a while for us to discover them. They can turn up the juice on our other emotions. They can have us be incredibly uncomfortable, ill at ease, negative or anxious. All of this results before you get a glimpse of them.

Notice the differences in how you react, how you interact, how important things seem to you. Any extreme change in your daily life might be you having hooked a deep emotion or been hooked by one.

If you notice such changes get curious. Incredibly curious with both your mind and you body. What is going on?

Ask that question often and consistently.

2. First Glimpse of the Monster

When I first saw the turtle I understood why I had been confused about what I had on the line.

When you first glimpse these nasty emotions that doesn’t mean that they just arrived. That means that you have just noticed them.

Notice anything and everything you can about them. You may be tempted to turn away or to resist but try not to. Look as deeply and clearly as you can. The sooner you figure out what you are dealing with the better.

You will not master these emotions. They are to be experienced. They are to be felt and to be embraced and loved. 

They are not yours and they are not you. They are passing through and they are an indication that you are daring to enter the depths of who you really are. They may be horrible and scary but they are a good and positive sign. They may have been having their way with you for a long time and you are becoming aware of them.

A little awareness goes a long way. Out of any interaction with emotions in the depth you will be wiser more loving and have much more self knowledge. You will join an elite group of people who are exploring their depths and learning to live consciously.

It is very important that at this stage, as you become aware of a very deep emotion, that you take good care of yourself.

Eat well, get plenty of sleep and lovin’.

You are in for a wrestling match and you need to be in the best shape possible. My first dive into my depths had me lose forty pounds in a matter of weeks. I had no interest in eating. Life didn’t look the same. It wasn’t the same.

Today I am leaner and healthier for this experience. It was way worth it and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

3. Exploring What to Do With This Particular Emotion

Once you know what the emotion is you get to find out what to do with it.

We decided to try and land the turtle and let it go. This is always a good plan. Bring the emotion as close as you can and invite it in, though your tendency may be to resist it.

Remain curious and observe. Look, listen and feel continually. 

What does the emotion want with you. How is it influencing you. What thoughts does it inspire? What aspects of you does it resonate with and which parts of you resist.

It is there for a reason. 

It is there to enhance those parts of you that you will need to live and explore in the depths. Get to know it and you will get to know yourself at the same time.

4. Landing the Emotion and Surrendering to It

As you get to know the emotion you can surrender to it. Identify with it. Let yourself melt into it. 

Continue to take great care of yourself and your new found buddy. Obey the emotion. Do what it says. Feel what it offers for you to feel no matter how wonderful or awful or unnatural it seems.

You are in for the ride of your life as the emotion begins to direct your life taking you on a tour of yourself and your life that will result in degrees of clarity and peace not available t the meek.

Surrendering to the emotion may at first seem to threaten your life. It does. But it doesn’t threaten your real life just the way you have been living. The new life this wild emotion reveals to you will have less illusion, be more truthful and you will be more fully you.

In any of these steps it can be very useful to have the support of someone who has been through this terrain in themselves.

It may even become necessary to take medication but know that medication may provide a short break or intermission but is not a solution.

You don’t need a solution because there is nothing really wrong.

5. Freeing the Emotion

When we were landing the turtle we were alive, awake and alert. We were at risk and we were very focused and in the flow.

When you are meeting these deep emotions you bring out resources that daily life just doesn’t call for. You discover new resources, powerful aspects of yourself and the dynamics of the depths.

Letting go of the emotion can be difficult. 

Early on you didn’t want anything to do with such ugly emotions, but once you get to know them you love them and the presence that they bring out of you. But still you must let them go. You must return to the new life they have opened for you.

You may experience a decrease in energy and attention. You may need to rest and you may feel that you have lost your edge. Feel free to rest. These emotions travel together. If you have experience one you may well experience others. We didn’t decide when the turtle would strike or what would happen once he did.

In your depths these emotions swim freely. They know you much better than you know yourself and they always show up on time in exactly the way they should.

Getting to know yourself is a lot about meeting these monsters of the depths and learning to live with them. They will teach you to trust the process of life, to embrace what is and to flow. They are your best friends and often pose as dangerous enemies.

You can’t get to know yourself without them.

May you live an interesting life and may you get to know these allies from your depths. Feel free to ask for help and make the best of this fabulous ride of getting to know yourself.

Written on 10/06/2012 by Jerry Stocking. Jerry is a non-guru who will twist your idea of reality on its head and leave you laughing. His mischievous smile will tell you right away he has found the lighter side of spirituality. Improve your life with spiritual tools and mindsets- visit Lightening Up and Letting Go, his blog on modern spirituality. Photo Credit: Stew Dean

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