I am a lover of emotions, and I think the uncomfortable ones get an unfair bad rap as being “negative” or “bad.”
So I’m here today to set the record straight: there are no bad emotions.
Sure, there are some feelings that really suck to feel… but that doesn’t make them bad.
Let’s take pain, for example. The pain of your appendix being about to burst really, really sucks. But if that intense pain also tells you to get your ass to a hospital pronto in order to save your life, is that pain really “bad”?
Or what about guilt?
True guilt (meaning, the gut-wrenching feeling of having done something wrong or hurting someone) teaches us about right and wrong and how not to be a sociopath. Guilt, and the associated shitty feelings of facing up to what you’ve done when you apologize, are deeply uncomfortable sensations.
That makes them a perfect teaching tool for “what not to do next time.”
Think about a world without any guilt, where we never learned how bad it feels to hurt each other. It would basically be a world full of sociopaths and cyber-bullies and trolls.
So is guilt really “bad”? Hell no.
Some emotions are deeply uncomfortable and unpleasant, yes. But these unpleasant feelings show up for a good reason, whether that reason is to teach you “get your ass to a doctor ASAP” or “hey, maybe don’t torture animals.”
Discomfort and unpleasantness are important signals from the body, and that includes emotions. So how on earth did so many people get the idea that some emotions are bad and should be avoided (or repressed) at all costs?
Here are a few big reasons:
We don’t know what to do with big emotional expressions. Big feelings make people in our culture uncomfortable– even big expressions of joy can cause people to feel awkward and threatened, let alone big expressions of sadness, anger, or jealousy. People who never learned how to feel and express their emotions safely or appropriately often view emotions as dangerous, scary, and out of control. Best to just repress them and stay even-keeled, moderate, “logical” and stoic.
We are culturally obsessed with happiness. When we make “be happy” the goal of life, we’re basically saying “I strive to feel only this one emotion, ever.” Since we can’t control how we feel however, and feelings have nothing to do with logic anyway, we all constantly feel a complex web of many different emotions all the time. This makes us view all other emotions as competition for happiness and signs that we’re failing, so… BAD.
We think discomfort is the enemy. Our history and cultural values have left us poorly equipped to handle emotions, but on top of that sits the more recent belief that the way to happiness is to simply eradicate all pain, suffering, discomfort, and unpleasantness! Cue the spiritual bypassing of “positive thinking” movements, the over-prescription of pain meds, the escalating opiate epidemic, and the rising levels of depression and anxiety in a generation of people who thought they were supposed to feel “happy” when they grew up.
It’s this last one that concerns me today, because I spend a huge amount of time with clients helping them reframe thoughts like “this is uncomfortable, so it must be a problem that needs to be solved immediately” to “this is uncomfortable, and that’s ok.”
Discomfort is ok. It is, in fact (as seen in the appendix and guilt examples) kind of amazing and super important.
Even if you can’t see the immediate benefit of feeling your uncomfortable and unpleasant feelings, I promise you there is one. Did you know that people who have experienced heartbreak, trauma, and grief tend to be more empathetic, compassionate, and kind?
So why do we spend so much of our lives trying to escape discomfort, cheer ourselves (and each other) up, and change the way we feel? Why do we spend so much time judging ourselves for feeling bad, and trying to “fix” or solve everything that’s uncomfortable
It’s actually the story we attach to each feeling that’s the problem, not the feelings themselves– the story about some feelings are good while others are bad, or that you “should” feel a certain way based on logic.
This kind of thinking often causes us to invalidate our own feelings, especially when they’re the kind of feelings society doesn’t tolerate well– grief, rage, heartbreak, loneliness, depression, fear.
The end result is that we all try to control our feelings and make them more “logical,” in an effort to justify them. We feel shame about what we feel, exhaust ourselves by trying to ignore our feelings, and even criticize ourselves for feeling what we feel.
In short, most of us have a terrible relationship with our own emotions, and this is 100% related to body image and self-acceptance.
That’s actually why I created the self-study program Make Friends With Your Feelings— to help people heal their relationship to their own feelings! (Note: the 10 week program is available for enrollment now, check out all the details here!)
Being human is difficult, and beautiful, and painful, and wonderful. Discomfort and unpleasantness are inevitable and important parts of the human experience, and that’s ok.
What if instead of rejecting our emotions just because they’re uncomfortable or painful, we started validating and welcoming them instead?
Emotions aren’t good or bad; they’re all neutral. Some feel good and some feel bad, yes. Some are lovely and some succcckkkkkk to experience. But ultimately, all of your feelings are valid, natural, normal, and not a problem.
It’s absolutely amazing how much more positive your experience of life (and yourself) can be when you release the idea that you should only feel “positive” emotions, and give yourself permission to just notice and feel whatever emotions come up.
Happy Tuesday beautiful humans.
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