Empathizing with an Emotion Meditation

When we have a T(t)raumatic experience, it can be uncomfortable–even painful–to sit with the emotions that we feel. We become enveloped in the emotions instead of observing them. We end up reliving the T(t)rauma instead of healing from it.

The following mediation can be a helpful tool in observing your emotions in a safe way.

Black woman with full figure placing her hands over her chest. She gazes above her with a content, gentle smile. She stands before a rust-colored background.

Grounding + Centering

To the extent that you are able, sit comfortably on the floor or in a chair with your feet on the floor. Perhaps you close your eyes or soften your gaze. Begin to notice all parts of your body that are being supported: feet on the floor, seat on the floor or chair, perhaps your hands on your lap. Where else do you feel support?

Begin to draw you attention inward. Notice what you hear; smell; feel on your skin; feel within your muscles and joints. Notice your breathing. Perhaps you slow down your breathing, prolonging the inhalations and exhalations.

Noticing the Emotion

Once you feel relaxed, begin to scan through your body. Starting at your head and working down to your toes, notice any bit of tension, discomfort, strain or pain. Which discomfort is most noticeable? Perhaps you choose to focus on that particular part of the body. Become curious about what emotion accompanies the discomfort that you sense.

Speak directly to this pain point, and the emotion that it embodies. Let this emotion know that you are here today to acknowledge it. You will engage with it with compassion and curiosity. You won’t try to push away this emotion or avoid feeling it. You want to get to know this emotion. Notice how the emotion responds and how that feels in your body.

I invite you to ask the emotion, “How did you get here?” “How were you born?” “What created you?” And if you observe any part of you that is resistant or judgmental, gently ask those parts to step back so that you can be alone with this emotion.

Considering asking the emotion, “How long have you been here?” “How old are you?” and notice the information that it gives you, and how that appears in your body.

If there is any part of you that doesn’t want to ask the emotion these questions because it thinks it already knows, gently tell that part of you to step back. Allow yourself to give undivided attention to this emotion and allow it to be heard.

Empathizing with the Emotion

As you witness this emotion, begin to show it compassion. Perhaps: “I understand how difficult it must be to have lived in my body for so long;” “I understand how challenging it was to be born in that way;” “You must be tired of working so hard to get my attention and being pushed down or avoided.” And as you empathize with the emotion, you might notice how it responds, and how that shows up in your body.

Once the emotion has become quiet, with nothing more to reveal in this moment, I invite you to thank the emotion. Offer it gratitude for giving you some insight as to its birth, its persistence, its reason for being here. Then gently ask it, “Is there anything else you need me to know?” “Is there anything else you need me to understand about you right now?” When it responds, offer more empathy. Show it that you understand. Repeat as necessary until it believes you.

Perhaps offer this emotion some hope, “If you didn’t have to be this [emotion], what would you rather be?” “What would it take for you to soften and expand into this way of being that you would prefer?” Listen.

Honoring the Relationship

Offer the emotion more sincere gratitude. Let it know that you intend to no longer push it down or push it away: “This will not be your last chance to speak to me. I will come back and visit you again. I won’t neglect or abandon you.” And continue to tell it this until it believes you and trusts you.

And when you are ready, you could tell it “Okay, I will be back. Thank you for sharing all that you have with me. I will see you soon.”

I invite you to envision a color that represents healing for you. Allow your entire body fill up with that color as you deeply breathe in and breathe out. Take several deep breaths, noticing the color fill every fiber of your being.

Gently bring your awareness back into your physical body. Begin to notice your senses again. Slowly, gently, allow your eyes to open if you’ve closed them.

It might feel helpful to journal about your experience and/or talk with your therapist.

Script inspired by Nityda Gessel, LCSW. Adapted by Erica Rascon.

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