Sunday, April 20, 2014

Emotional Acceptance: How Feeling Bad Can Be Good For You

    
       It’s only natural to want to avoid feeling negative emotions such as anger, depression, guilt, remorse or fear.  As soon we become conscious of these feelings we immediately seek ways to extinguish them. Feeling unpleasant emotions is extremely uncomfortable and very difficult to tolerate.  It is understandable that we would want to avoid them.  But, in actuality, our avoidance perpetuates the cycle of feeling bad.  When we avoid our feelings, we deny ourselves the opportunity to learn what underlies our negative emotions. As a result, avoidance creates feelings of powerless, it’s impossible “to fix” what we don’t know is “broken” in the first place so we do nothing.  

     We avoid feeling negative emotions in various ways; by over eating, over spending, over drinking, and even hyper sexual or dormant sexual behaviors are all forms of avoidance.  At first avoiding our negative emotions may seem like a reasonable response.  Negative feelings are disturbing and often times linked to the very events and circumstances we want to forget.  We can all relate to the immediate relief avoidance can provide.  However, this relief is temporary and we pay a heavy price in the long term when we avoid acknowledging and accepting our negative emotions.  The short term gain we get from avoiding our negative emotions creates more complicated problems for us in the long run.  Not only do we need to resolve the original problem, we now need to resolve the problems we’ve picked up along the way because of our avoidance behaviors.
     In actuality, our unpleasant and negative emotions (depression, anxiety, fear) are signals telling us something is wrong and these emotions need our attention and understanding rather than us ignoring them. We avoid our emotions by using defense mechanisms, such as repression, minimization, fantasy, rationalization, projection, somatization, wishful thinking, and idealization to name a few. Not all defense mechanism are unhealthy but certain ones are thought to hold us back more than others from living more authentic, richer and satisfying lives. Learning how to tolerate our negative emotions rather than defending against them allows us to understand our emotions and gives us a context surrounding them. This new understanding enables us to effectively "fix" what we realize is "broken".  


Below are 4 tips to help you tune into your emotions in order to make effective changes:

1. Develop the ability to "sit with" negative and unpleasant emotions such as depression, anxiety, fear and anger.  Tolerating negative emotions allows us to process our feelings and gives us the time to understand ourselves and our feelings more deeply.

2. Be patient with yourself. It takes time to sort out emotions and to understand the full circumstances surrounding them. Emotions are complicated and often times we feel several at once.

3. Accept that negative emotions are normal and a part of being human. Our goal should not be to never feel bad--that's impossible. Instead, learning how to manage our negative emotions should be our focus and goal.

4. Try not react impulsively in response to your negative feelings. Impulsive reactions often make circumstance and feelings worse. Instead, try to slow down your reactions by being patient and allowing yourself the time to sort out what it is your feeling and why. When you have a greater understanding of your feelings and the circumstances surrounding them, your reactions will be more effective and less damaging to you.

I would like to hear from you. How do you avoid negative emotions? Do you struggle with tolerating your negative feelings? How do you manage your negative feelings?
 
   
 

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