German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously stated that “to live is to suffer, but to survive is to find meaning in the suffering”. Pondering on this quote, it would be difficult to suffer through life without attaching a range of emotions to the difficult times we all inevitably experience. These emotions can include anger, grief, fear, jealousy, guilt, rage, and shame. Often, we are told that these emotions are “bad” especially when compared to love, joy, and happiness. However, it is often in the dark times that people are propelled forward, growing from pain, and turning emotions around, to benefit their lives, hence finding meaning to their suffering.

Ramadan is a wonderful time to particularly focus on spiritual well-being, purifying any negative thoughts, emotions and feelings that may have built up over what has undeniably been a tough time throughout the world.

But rather than labelling emotions “good” or “bad,” Dr. Saliha Afridi, Clinical Psychologist and Founder of The LightHouse Arabia, prefers to focus on seeing emotions as being messengers from our depths which are teaching us about what we value and where we need to speak up. By looking at emotions in this way, anger for example “becomes something more [than] an emotion we have to ‘control’ or ‘manage,’ it becomes something that informs us of what is important to us, or when a boundary has been compromised, or when we experience injustice,” Dr. Saliha states.

“There is a lot of wisdom in difficult emotions but most of us cannot hear it because we are too busy trying to get rid of the emotion.”

Zoltan Rendes, co-owner and chief marketing officer of SunMoney Solar Group in Dubai can relate to that. As a single father and a global entrepreneur, Zoltan who calls himself a “hopeless optimist” has dealt with a range of challenges, frustrations, and annoyances throughout his life. The 47-year-old Hungarian and ex-crisis correspondent uses boxing and meditation to assist him in keeping a positive mindset, including times when, like most of us, he has experienced grief and fear.

“In my previous role, I was always on the road, spending most of my time in disaster or war-torn regions where what you see and experience brings with it a range of complex emotions,” Zoltan says.

“It was way harder to find my inner peace in these situations, but my tactic was to focus on the good; the people who can rise above the challenges.”

Zoltan Rendes with his son Oliver
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For Zoltan, boxing and meditation provide him with a focus, which minimizes the intensity of difficult emotions and in turn generates a “mind reset” every day.

This is exactly the type of goal that Hiba Balfaqih, who calls herself “The Mindhacker” had when co-founding The Smash Room in Al Quoz Dubai, which was created at a time when she was going through a tough time with the loss of her grandmother. The Smash Room is a place where you can “smash your stress away”, enabling participants to “shatter, stomp, break, tear and yell” while hurling glasses at walls, or hammering away at old electronics.

“I released my anger through breaking my TV and printer in my backyard and that is how the idea {of the Smash Room} was born. Today at least once a month I still go to The Smash Room to release anything that I need to let go of,” admits Hiba.

“The hope for The Smash Room was to create a safe place for people to go express any type of emotion that was considered taboo…and to expand to every city in the Middle East. We live in a society where we’re programmed to be strong, and any sign of vulnerability is considered weakness, which creates an environment of people who suppress emotions internally and suffer silently.”

Though feelings like anger and grief can be turned around for good as in Hiba’s case, if harboured in the body for too long, these difficult emotions can also be destructive. They can destroy friendships and relationships, not to mention contribute to various health issues like high blood pressure. They can also make you feel as though you’re out of control, acting completely at the mercy of unpredictable emotions.

At times it may feel that some emotions are protecting you from feeling hurt, but the reality is, if we circle back to Nietzsche, in an unfair world, there will always be a reason for negative emotions. The answer lies in not allowing them to consume you.

So how do we purify our emotions?

Develop emotional competence. Tune inwards to recognise the emotion. Be curious and ask questions of the emotion, why is it there, what is the cause and then ask yourself whether you can take a different approach than the one you are taking currently to address the concern.

“Emotional competence means you can feel your emotions, experience them in your body, not just think about them, express them effectively, ask for what you need. It is being able to self-soothe, but also learning how to release trauma that is in the body,” says Dr. Saliha.

“Make an intention to befriend your difficult emotions, including anger, and grief. Understand them, be curious about them, learn to sit with them, be with them, feel them, learn from them and release them when they have taught you what you needed to learn.”

Try to find a healthy outlet for the emotions, like heading to the local gym, yoga studio, attending the smash room in Dubai, going to a boxing class, painting or drawing, singing to a song you resonate the emotion to, moving in dance or playing a musical instrument like the drums. 

Hiba would agree. “Move. Movement is healing. Shake it up. Dance. Exercise. Just move your body,”  she says.

Then there’s Mindhacking, a technique created by Hiba, that combines understanding the mind using guidance, coaching and meditation, to identify and instantly transform deeply held blocks, negative beliefs and trauma in the unconscious mind. 

“I created this methodology because I was irked by traditional therapy modalities where progress was slow and took years, so I wanted to create a way [where] we all can grow in our journeys and overcome our fears, anxieties, and doubts in the most efficient way.”

There are yet other options that involve soft, gentle movements. Dr. Saliha suggests yoga, qi gong, tai chi, stretching, humming, breathwork, shaking, bathing, horse riding. “They all help to release blocked emotions.”

The clinical psychologist also believes in meditation and practicing mindfulness and using positive affirmations to change your mindset to the intense emotions. Journaling or writing down the emotions as you investigate them can also help.

“Show compassion to the part of you that is sad/ashamed. Wherever there is a wound/pain, there is also an unconscious belief that ‘maybe I did something that caused this’ or ‘my love was not enough’ or ‘I was not enough’,” she says. “Instead say things like ‘Don’t be so hard on yourself.’ ‘It is not your fault.’ ‘You are a good person.’ ‘Your love is good.’ ‘You are enough’.”

Give forgiveness to others as well as yourself. This is an essential part of healing, but Dr. Saliha usually advises people to make an intention to heal first and then eventually forgive the person who hurt you. It may not be today or tomorrow, but time is a healer, as they say, and without forgiveness, there will always be a sense of unfinished business.

She advises not putting too much pressure on ourselves to be “righteous” when we are deeply wounded and just need to care for ourselves first. “Acknowledge and listen to your pain, validate it and trust that a more healed version of you will let go of the grudge, bitterness, and resentment.”

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