Updated: May 4, 2021
How often do you wish you could avoid feeling sad, anxious, or angry? Now think if you’ve ever wished you could stop feeling happy, relaxed, or confident?
Chances are you’ve probably tried to avoid the “bad” emotions but not the “good” ones. When it comes to certain “negative” emotions, they get a bad rep.
By the end of this article, I will start to show you that although not all emotions will be our friends, you’ll start to be open to seeing that they all serve a very useful function.
Not Bad just Uncomfortable
Firstly, let’s change our language around emotions. All emotions are inherently good because they provide us with information. Are they comfortable though? Definitely not. Let’s break down some emotions into 2 categories.
So, what information could these uncomfortable emotions be trying to tell us? Generally, these emotions are trying to tell us something about the situation/context and ourselves.
For example, if you feel sad at a funeral, it could be because death is seen as a sad occurrence in your culture and you cared for the person who passed away. If you feel happy at a funeral on the other hand, it could be because in your culture, death is celebrated or because the deceased was your enemy.
With emotions such as sadness, if they are viewed as socially appropriate (e.g. sad at a funeral), people are more willing to allow the release of the emotion to occur (i.e. crying). However, if it is not deemed appropriate, then people may try to repress their emotion or change it into something else.
When we repress or try to change a naturally occurring emotion, then we may prolong our experience of it or develop another uncomfortable emotion on top of our initial feeling.
Let’s say you’ve been trying to figure out the best way forward for a work project, but have started to feel quite frustrated as you’ve tried a few different strategies and they don’t seem to be working the way you initially expected. You ignore this frustrated feeling and instead question why you aren’t able to just do it (i.e. be calm and confident). This will probably lead to an increased feeling of frustration and stress which will likely drag on.
A “Cleaner” Way Forward
So, what are we supposed to do with the initial emotion we feel? How can we release it in a healthier way?
We first need to identify the emotion we’re feeling and recognise why we’re feeling this way (i.e. frustrated). Then we acknowledge and validate our own experience of the emotion (e.g. “It makes sense for me to feel this way since I care about the outcome of my work”).
Now we can choose how we would like to respond in light of the information the emotion has given us (e.g. ask for clarification about elements of the project. Talk things out with a colleague to look at the problem from another angle).
Anger is an often frowned upon emotion that many clients, friends, and family try to suppress or change. This is usually due to anger and aggression being confused as the same thing.
As anger is an emotion, it is information that can be used in a helpful way if we listen to it. Anger at its core is trying to let us know that a boundary has been crossed and we don’t want to tolerate that treatment.
Aggression, on the other hand, is a behaviour that may be verbal or physical in nature which could lead to injury (emotional or physical) of self or others.
If instead of acting aggressively when feeling angry, we identified how we felt, acknowledged why we were feeling that way, and engaged in a healthy release (e.g. stepping out for a breather and returning to clearly communicating our frustrations with the person who has crossed a boundary), then the emotion wouldn’t have to escalate or turn into anything else (e.g. regret for hurting someone).
For more ideas on how to manage anger, grief, and anxiety, click on the corresponding links in the “Emotional Regulation series”.
Although not all emotions will be comfortable, they all serve their own purpose.
If we can accept this and sit with the temporary discomfort, perhaps we will learn a thing or two about the situation or ourselves. This pause will give us the opportunity to choose how we would like to act and prevent a further escalation or “Dirtying” of the uncomfortable emotion.
When we consciously choose what we do with the information that emotions provide us, there will be no need to regret our actions as they will be aligned with our values.
If you need urgent assistance, please contact your doctor, or emergency hotline.
If you are in Australia, please contact the following 24/7 services if required:
Ambulance, Police, Fire 000
Lifeline 13 11 14
Suicide Callback Service 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue 1300 224 636