The Wave

Libby Gilbertson

Posted by: Libby Gilbertson

Are you feeling overwhelmed by negative feelings? Are these feelings compounded by the negative feelings you have about your initial emotion, as in meta-emotions. Meta-emotions are way that they feel about the feelings you experience. The wave exercise is designed to help you use imagery to manage your meta-emotions in a new, less overwhelming way.


Picture yourself at the beach, standing waist deep in the ocean. What do you think to do first when a wave starts heading your way? What other options are there for dealing with it?

  • Do you stand strong, firmly planting your feet as deep into the wet sand as possible so you will not be moved by the wave?
  • Would you dive into the ocean going under the wave, immersing yourself into the salt water?
  • Do you allow your feet to lift up as the wave moves you backwards, floating along?
  • Have you run towards the sand to avoid getting any more wet?
  • Are you able to jump up and over it?

The responses that people can have to a wave are similar to the different ways to deal with emotions. Apply this idea to your emotional experience and think about how you feel differently physically when thinking about them as a wave.

  • Has this always been your approach to dealing with emotions?
  • What do you perceive in other people's responses to your way on managing the wave?
  • How do other people respond to their emotions?
  • Have you ever asked for a trusted person's support to manage the wave differently?
  • Who would you bring with you to the ocean?
  • What would their initial response to the wave be?

When people struggle feel negative about their feelings, as in meta-emotions, their emotional experience can seem like the big, wide ocean. Try to isolate each feeling out and deal with one at a time. Own the feeling and honor it for the simplicity. Picture yourself back in the ocean with that feeling as a single wave at a time. Try taking the exercise beyond helping yourself and observe other people's reactions to emotions for a growing awareness of the many options in managing your emotions. Emotions can be very complex. They can contradict each other. Or compound each one making them even more distressing causing you to drown in emotions. If you still seem to struggle overwhelmed by negative feelings, therapy could be helpful for you to navigate the waves differently in your future.