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How to Use the RAIN Method for Difficult Emotions

The initial response to negative emotions is to suppress them. After all, society tells us that this is what we must do to remain happy — ignore any negative thoughts and focus only on the sunshine, rainbows, and butterflies of life.

However, this life view not only fails to address the complex tangle that is the human psyche, it can confine you to only one little bit of your psyche and make you feel even worse — stability at the cost of self-alienation. So what can you do? If you’re really struggling, don’t hesitate to see a professional, but if you would just like to know how to find peace in difficult emotions, the RAIN method might be for you.

man meditating in a field of grass
Mindfulness is not exactly the same as meditation, though it originally grew out of that practice.

What is RAIN?

RAIN is a process that was developed by Michelle McDonald as part of the mindfulness movement, which is characterized by an emphasis on maintaining awareness of your surroundings and the thoughts and feelings that accompany them without judgement. This means no reliving the past, and no preparing for the future. This is a relatively new practice, so there are flaws within it, but at the very least there’s a possibility that it could help you.

RAIN is, in fact, an acronym, the four letters standing for:

  1. Recognize
  2. Accept
  3. Investigate
  4. Not-identify

This framework gives you an easy way to start acclimating yourself to mindfulness, and can be very helpful in dealing with heavy emotions for some. So what exactly do these steps entail?


Take a step back and observe the emotions or thoughts which are paining you. Perhaps you’re upset with your boss, or your partner, or any number of other people. First, just name the emotions that you are feeling, perhaps “annoyance,” “overloaded with work,” or “didn’t like how I reacted.” These emotions should be treated without judgement as good or bad, providing you with the realization “oh, so that’s what I was feeling.” Often enough, this step alone can provide some relief in the form of knowing exactly what’s going on in your own mind.


This A could stand for multiple other words, like acknowledge or allow, but the main idea is that you should recognize that the difficult emotion you’re experiencing right now is your reality. They should not be pushed under the surface of your consciousness, left to fester there until they unsurface in a unwelcome moment. Instead, put these emotions front and center in your mind and say “yes, this is how I’m feeling” without attempting to change it. This may be unpleasant, but remember to be kind to yourself — no unnecessary self-criticism.

gears under a magnifying glass
Closely observing the inner cogs of your mental process can help you deal with difficult emotions.


Try to approach your thoughts with an attitude of curiousness, and ask yourself questions about the emotions you’ve been carrying: how did this start? Have I felt this way before? What do I need to do? These questions should be approached not as a psychoanalysis, but as a friendly, open-ended interview with yourself. This should help you identify the other elements of the emotion wheel beside the main negative feeling.


When you have a negative emotion, you can feel like it’s the only part of you that matters at that time. Non-identification means that you should acknowledge that you are a whole person, and this difficult emotion is just a tiny, fleeting part of who you are. Simply see the negative thoughts scrolling past you, mainly caused by outside forces, and detach yourself from them.

Of course, everyone is different, and this process may not work for everyone, or it may require some practice the first few times. But for those who would like to be more open to their emotions — even the difficult ones — the RAIN method is a way to foray into the territory without becoming totally consumed by it.