Building tolerance for difficult emotions

Many of us attempt to distract ourselves from uncomfortable emotions. Some of us distract ourselves from all emotions – even the pleasant ones we believe we seek!

When we avoid emotions they tend to find a way out – whether they pop out in other situations that don’t warrant such a response and leave us confused as to why we have overreacted, whether they come out through the body in some sort of ailment, or whether we experience a secondary feeling that is not the primary feeling (for example, we may split off feelings of anger because we believe they are unacceptable and then we may experience anxiety because we fear that the anger may pop out at any moment – and we generally don’t even realise all of this has happened!)

The distractions we seek in order to avoid these emotions may lead to substance abuse, binge eating or controlling our eating, overworking, over-exercising, and any number of unwanted behaviours. Thus there is value in building tolerance to uncomfortable emotions.


Sit comfortably and if you are comfortable close your eyes. Become aware of the feeling and how it affects your body. Then ask, ‘Can I tolerate this feeling, just for this moment?’ Stay with it for as long as you can – especially if it is a very uncomfortable feeling. Simply take note of any changes that occur in your body and in the texture of the feeling.

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