Accepting negative emotions is nobody’s jam.
When our biggest negative emotions come knocking, we’d rather punch them in the face than face them down.
Denying uncomfortable emotions is so commonplace, we often don’t even know we’re doing it. Why wouldn’t we push aside discomfort – it’s uncomfortable!
- – Our feelings get all out of control.
- – Suddenly, the world stops.
- – Our mind goes blank.
- – All those tunnel vision, heart-pounding, mind-numbing moments!
ALL we want to do in those moments is run from, stuff, numb, replace or OFF-LOAD those emotions onto someone else (usually in some unhelpful way).
We all know what happens when we try to escape our negative emotions. Eventually, they come out in other ways.
We might get more controlling – suddenly, the house can’t get clean enough. Or we might avoid them with excessive use of alcohol or drugs & then have to deal with those consequences.
We create a secondary problem in our efforts to escape the primary one. And our ACTIONS, in the meantime, are run by the very thing we THINK we are escaping.
The thing is – life gets uncomfortable. We get betrayed, hurt, divorced, lied to, damaged, abused. This is part of being a human. The result is negative, uncomfortable feelings.
We can deny those feelings, but if we do, they will express themselves in our behaviour, beliefs & often toward other people or situations that have nothing to do with what’s going on inside of us.
Bottom line: when we resist accepting negative emotions, we won’t know what is driving our behaviour & responses to situations. It’s kind of like running around with a blindfold on & a knife in our hands. We usually hurt ourselves & others as a result.
We prefer denial over acceptance because:
- It’s uncomfortable, and we don’t like to feel discomfort.
- We fear that if we open that door to our pain, even a crack, we’ll never stop feeling it.
- We judge ourselves for having the emotion. That having them means we’re weak or escaping them means we’re unable to deal with them.
- Accepting negative emotions can feel discouraging. We might conclude that we aren’t as “together” as we want to be or that there’s something wrong with us.
- We were taught to avoid or repress negative emotions. Maybe our caregivers dealt with emotions this way & now we do too.
The truth is, & you’ll probably hate hearing this, but staying still, listening to the discomfort & accepting negative emotions gets us a better result than trying to escape it.
To make it easier on ourselves, we need a plan to help us accept our negative emotions.
This is where I’ve landed:
- Name it: “This is a moment of pain (of betrayal, of ___).” Accepting negative emotions begins by naming the feeling. Just like identifying something unknown, naming it brings the emotion into the “known” & reduces fear.
- Tell yourself this isn’t permanent. “Like everything – feelings come & go. I’ve had feelings before & they have left. This one will too.”
- Ask some questions: who in your childhood did the same thing? Where did you learn this response? Start to investigate the reasons you are avoiding the tough emotions.
- Neutralize it. You aren’t wrong or broken or weak for having a negative feeling. It’s just a feeling like the positive ones are. Instead of criticizing yourself for having a negative emotion, look at it with curiosity & ask it the questions in #3.
- Where are you vulnerable? We often deny our negative feelings more in the areas of our life that we feel vulnerable in. Get curious around where you feel the most vulnerable, afraid or uncertain or angry (because our fear often shows up as anger).
- Look for patterns. Patterns tell us a lot. Do you deny your feelings or hide your thoughts more in some situations than others, more on a singular topic, more with particular people?
Have lots of compassion for yourself (check out this article for more on compassion: Compassion For Others: What Is Holding Us Back?). You are just a human being having a human experience, and negative emotions are part of that. Experiencing them means nothing bad about you…it just means you are human.
Have lots of grace for yourself. Congratulate yourself for being brave enough even to consider a different way of looking at this.
It takes a brave heart to face down discomfort & it takes practice sitting with it without judging yourself for it. But I think that being curious enough to read this article tells me you juuust might be stronger than you think & ready for a little more inner acceptance than you thought.
For more strategies on facing your negative emotions, check out this article: How To Face Your Fears & Build Resilience.