"Don’t judge your feelings; notice them. Use them as your map. Don’t be afraid of the truth.” - Lori Gottlieb
Last two years have brought a lot of new difficulties and uncertainty into our lives. Along with it, we likely have experienced a range of uncomfortable or negative emotions. Some of our emotions can be short-lived, like a flash of annoyance, or more long term, like enduring sadness. When these feelings come up, we may immediately want to either deny them or not acknowledge them at all. This is a psychological defense that we use to protect ourselves and block out any anticipated pain. However, we do more harm to ourselves by not fully processing our feelings and it isn’t a productive way to cope. That’s why it’s still important to work through and deal with uncomfortable emotions.
So why do we have such an issue with confronting our emotions? A lot of it can be attributed to a larger cultural problem. We live in a culture that traditionally resists and fears emotions. Additionally, there is an often negative view towards those who are vulnerable and express how they feel because it is perpetuated as “being weak” or “too sensitive.” However, those harmful claims are not true. Feeling our feelings and owning our emotions is one of the strongest things we can do.
What Our Emotions Do For Us
Whether we recognize it or not, our emotions play a major role in virtually every aspect of our lives. The emotions we feel compel us to take action and influence the decisions we make. They help us to survive and avoid danger, to understand others better and to help others understand us better as well. Attending to our emotions can make us much stronger and resilient. Despite our emotions functioning to help us, we still are prone to judging them or not giving them the attention they need. This can have a detrimental effect on our mental health.
What Happens When We Block Our Emotions
If we try to block negative emotions all the time, our self-consciousness will likely use harsh and critical language to discourage those feelings, telling us to “Stop feeling this way!” or “What is wrong with you?!” This self-talk restrains our feelings and also generates new emotions of feeling hurt or judged by our inner selves. It can easily turn into a cycle where we turn against ourselves (which can lead to deeper issues, like depression).
How to Welcome Our Emotions
Part of the issue with welcoming our emotions lies in the fact that we need a large cultural shift in the way we view emotions and the education around it. But there are things that we can do to be more accepting and deal with uncomfortable emotions. While we can’t fully cut out uncomfortable feelings of sadness, anger, anxiety or fear, we do have control in our responses to these emotions.
Pause and Evaluate
It’s okay to take a moment to just sit with a feeling and breathe. We may not be used to pausing and making ourselves slow down to recognize our emotions. However, this can help us to better understand what we’re feeling and why we may be acting a certain way.
Mindfulness is another, more structured way to slow down and evaluate your emotions. You can practice mindfulness in the traditional sense or pursue other activities that help you sort through feelings, like journaling or spending time in nature. Find an activity that calms whatever unpleasant feelings you may have, so that it doesn’t drive you away from confronting it.
Sometimes we judge our emotions and get upset with ourselves for feeling a certain way. This doesn’t help us to sort through our feelings well. Try to have self-compassion and be kind to yourself, even if you feel frustrated as to why you may be feeling a certain way.
Talk to Others
When we have open conversations with people we trust about our feelings, it helps us to process them and look at them from a different perspective. It also shows the person you’re talking to that they have a safe space to be open with you too.
While talking to a friend or family member about your emotions can help, if you’re still feeling stuck with how you’re feeling, therapy can also help. Therapy is all about helping people to understand their emotions and how to process them. It’s a great way to work through the uncomfortable feelings and become more resilient from it.
Sometimes we don’t welcome emotions because they are difficult to define or confusing to us. And sometimes we may judge our own feelings or feel ashamed of them. However, when we avoid or delegitimize our feelings, we tune out important clues about who we are and what we may need. It limits our capacity for self-understanding. We can all work on finding healthy ways to deal with uncomfortable emotions. By normalizing confronting and processing difficult emotions, we can all emerge more resilient.