Oftentimes, clients are surprised when I tell them that the goal of good therapy should never include completely ridding them of all negative or unpleasant emotions. I mean, if given the choice, who wouldn’t choose to opt out of negative feelings? We often organize our lives in a fairly futile attempt to avoid experiencing feelings that we don’t want to feel, and spend large amounts of our time, money, and attention on various products and activities that are touted as cure-alls for our emotional ills. Read on to learn more about why you should sometimes feel bad.
- Negative emotions are important sources of information: Picture it, you’re walking home alone at night and you’re presented with two options; you can take a well-lit path that’s highly populated, or you can take a short cut that takes you through poorly lit, back-alleys that are seldom traveled. Experiencing anxiety in this situation is normal and helpful; it’s your mind’s way of leading you to make a safer decision! From day to day decisions to interpersonal relationships, negative emotions provide a stream of information to us, if we’re open enough to listen.
- “What you resist persists:” The first use of this phrase is credited to Carl Jung, and he was referring to the aspect of the self that he referred to as The Shadow. I’m using it today to combat the belief that it’s possible to ignore your negative emotions until they go away. The truth is that the more you attempt to ignore and suppress your negative emotions, the more powerful they become, and the more control they have over the way in which you live your life.
- Ineffective coping can lead to additional problems: Whether it starts as a few drinks at a party to cope with anxiety, staying constantly busy so there’s no time to think or feel, or binge eating to manage feelings of loss, it doesn’t take long for a feedback cycle to take hold, and for those behaviors to become less manageable. So two drinks becomes four, your calendar is double and triple booked, and weekly binge behavior becomes daily; these behavioral patterns can establish themselves quickly, and then become problems in their own right.
- You really can’t have one without the other: Suppressing your negative emotions comes at a cost. You can’t simply pick and choose which emotions you’d like to feel, and which you’d rather disregard. Ignoring anger, sadness, anxiety, fear, often comes at the expense of your ability to feel other positive emotions like joy, love, and happiness.
The next time you feel angry, sad, or anxious, instead of rushing to rid yourself of the uncomfortable feeling, take a moment to ask yourself what it might be trying to tell you. If you struggle with allowing yourself to feel your natural emotions, there is a specific type of therapy known as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy that may be helpful for you.
Dr. Scrivani specializes in the treatment of anxiety and related disorders, and provides tele-mental health services to residents of New York and Florida. Call (888) 535-5671 or email [email protected] Visit Dr. Scrivani’s iTherapy webpage to learn more.