STOP with F Words!

I once asked a client to talk about his feelings in regards to a concern of his and he got squeamish, “Ah fuck, not the “F” words…”

I said, “Yes, the “F” words!” and suggested we brainstorm options for him to process his feelings rather than avoid them.

Most of us grow up knowing diddly squat about processing feelings which makes sense because our education system puts little emphasis on teaching about feelings. We learn about math and science, but those skills don’t help much when we’re facing intense feelings of jealousy, navigating the turbulence of a divorce, or experiencing the day-to-day stressors of raising kids.

As a result of this lack of knowledge with processing our feelings, we tend to dodge them (either consciously or unconsciously) by burying them, ignoring them, or straight up rejecting them. These dodging tactics are no good! The outcome is usually a sense of disconnection and our close relationships begin to unravel.

In my work as a communications coach I help people identify, process and communicate their feelings in order to achieve a greater sense of connection and nurture healthy relationships. To be clear, I am not a flawless communicator of my feelings. I am, however, fully committed to deepening my understanding of feelings and continually learn from the ongoing research about human connection.

I think it’s important for people to explore and talk about their feelings. In particular, I encourage people to look closely at the intense feelings they tend to judge as “bad” and are inclined to avoid or reject. I love examining my feelings and I’ve discovered that none of them are actually bad or wrong! Any negative experience I’ve had with a feeling is the result of me not effectively processing it and reacting in problematic ways.

Take anger as an example. There have been times when I’ve felt angry and I acted inappropriately by punching a wall, throwing things, and/or yelling at people who I care about. The outcome of those reactions was often negative and generated more problems. There are other times when I’ve felt angry and I became courageous, asserted myself and responded in a way that helped me grow. The outcome of those responses was a sense of empowerment and responsibility.

And so, the feeling of anger is not problematic,
it’s how I react to feeling angry that can be problematic.

I’d like to share one of my most popular strategies for minimizing problematic reactions to intense feelings. The strategy is called the “STOP Technique” which consists of four simple steps, I encourage you to share the technique with your family, it’s suitable for ALL ages!

STOP

The acronym stands for:

S        Stop – Notice when you’re feeling emotionally charged and reacting in ways that could be problematic – yelling, blaming, throwing things. Then, stop whatever you’re doing. This can be difficult, but take the time to stop.  I recently used this step when my spouse, Gord, and I were escalating in a conflict about our schedules. I began talking over him and had no interest in listening to what he had to say. I knew it was time to stop as soon as I noticed my voice was loaded with sarcasm and an unkind tone.

T        Take deep breaths – Count 3-5 deep breaths. When you take a few deep breaths, it calms your nervous system and you’re better able to investigate your feelings without getting entangled in them. In my example of the recent situation with Gord, I counted a few breaths and realized that I was feeling; annoyance, hopelessness, fear, and shame.

O       Open senses – Bring your mind to the present moment by noticing what you see, taste, smell, hear, touch. You’re more likely to respond appropriately to your feelings when your mind is not wandering with rehashing past experiences, or over-thinking and worrying about the future. For example, I was able to recognize that my feelings of hopelessness and fear came from ruminating about our past challenges of not having enough time together and catastrophizing that we will NEVER have enough time together. It was helpful for me to ground myself in the moment by making intentional eye contact with Gord, touching the surface of my couch, and tasting the warmth of my cup of tea.

P        Plan – Make a plan for processing your charged feelings. Is there tension building in your body from the stress? Maybe you need to get out for a walk. Are you feeling drained? Maybe you need to take a nap. Are you low on fuel and “hangry”? Maybe you need to eat. Once I opened my senses, I noticed stiffness in my body and decided to process my elevated feelings while taking a 20 minute bath. The warm water softened my body and mind which made me more flexible in negotiating our schedules.***The Plan step is the final shift and enables us to respond in healthier ways.

For more tips and tools on communicating feelings, check out my workbook “A Map to Limitless Parenting”.

Remember F words are not bad and I encourage you to examine the feelings you find most challenging. The next time you notice elevated feelings and negative reactions arise, use the STOP technique. This is a skill set that can help you overcome emotional stress and maintain optimal connections with loved ones.

I’d like to hear what you experience with the STOP technique and look forward to reading your stories, please connect with me over the upcoming weeks.

All my best,

Amber McAuley
coachambermcauley@gmail.com