By Maddie Lukens, MA
In the culture we live in there is a quiet message sent to us that we must AVOID all things negative, uncomfortable, or anything that leaves us feeling other than happy or satisfied.
Can you recall a time that you’ve wanted to avoid hurt, sadness, rejection, or pain? I imagine we all have a few experiences that we wouldn’t want to go through again. Which of course makes sense. Nobody likes feeling these “negative” emotions.
I’d like to offer a different perspective on these so-called “negative” emotions. What if we chose to view our emotional experiences as messages to be received instead of uncomfortable feelings to be ignored?
Each emotion we experience sends us a different message about what’s going on in our body, mind, + environment.
Let’s practice determining what message we receive through the experience of a “negative” emotion:
- Take fear for example – when we feel afraid we realize we may not be safe, either emotionally or physically. The message we receive from fear is that a change needs to be made so we can feel safe again.
- Take anger for example – when we feel angry, we may recognize our defenses popping up, a boundary we’ve set has been violated or that we may have been offended in some way. The message we receive from anger is that we may have been wronged, or some miscommunication/injustice has occurred.
- Take sadness for example – when we feel sad, we may recognize changes in our levels of happiness and motivation. The message we receive from sadness is that we may need to take time to pause and recoup, or allow ourselves to grieve.
What is the problem with avoiding uncomfortable emotions or experiences?
- This limits our experience of being human. Being human means we experience a variety of emotions and have a wide range of experiences. Limiting our experiences to just the “good” and comfortable feelings limits our humanity. I’ve always liked the quote:
“Bittersweet is the practice of believing that we really do need both the bitter and the sweet, and that a life full of nothing but sweetness rots both your teeth and your soul. Bitter is what makes us strong, what forces us to push through, what helps us earn the lines on our faces and the calluses on our hands Sweet is nice enough, but bittersweet is beautiful, nuanced, full of depth and complexity.”
I think Shauna Niequst said it perfectly – we need both the bitter and the sweet to have a well-rounded life.
- Only focusing on the happy/good contributes to Toxic Positivity. Toxic Positivity is the concept that if we just ignore the good and only focus on the good, then we won’t have to experience the “bad” or feel the “negative” emotions. This perspective, although tempting, is ultimately unhelpful as it leads to us minimizing, ignoring, or rejecting our own experiences. This leads us to our next helpful characteristic:
- Pretending something doesn’t exist doesn’t make it go away. Wouldn’t it be nice if whatever we ignored, just disappeared? This is unfortunately not the case and often what we ignore in ourselves comes out in one way or another…eventually. The un-experienced/suppressed/ignored emotions rear their ugly heads. For some people this looks like bitterness towards a person/situation, “emotional breakdowns,” explosive anger, bouts of depressions, or even panic attacks.
Although these experiences sound intimidating or extreme, your mind + your body is trying it’s best to communicate with you & get your attention. The message you are receiving might be: “I am not okay, I need support” or “this is not working, I need to do something different.” It may feel strange at first to put words to some of your experiences, but that is exactly what seeking anxiety counseling is all about.
4 Tips to Help Manage The Anxiety Experienced From Negative Emotions
- Pause, try to recognize what led to your experience of anxiety
- Try to find an appropriate outlet to manage anxiety (i.e. exercise, eating healthy, getting enough sleep, journaling)
- Practice deep breathing. One of my favorites is the 4-4-4 method. Take 4 seconds to inhale, 4 seconds to pause and hold, 4 seconds to exhale. Repeat as needed.
- Schedule an online therapy appointment with one of our therapists today! We have therapists at Lime Tree Counseling offering sessions online to individuals in Colorado and Pennsylvania. We specialize in grief counseling, anxiety therapy, marriage therapy and therapy for young adults.