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Don’t Talk: How We Treat “Negative” Emotions
I bet all of you have heard phrases like “Being angry is bad,” “Why Do you envy her? You’re no worse,” and “Stop being sad and do something finally!” at some point of your lives. All those sayings, though most of the time originating from a desire to help, perpetuate harmful beliefs about some emotions being bad, and some others being good. Of course, no one would say a word if you felt happy, excited or inspired – all those emotions are “good” and, therefore, allowed to be experienced. But what’s with the other side of the emotional palette?
Since I was a little kid, I was told that I blew things up, exaggerated my reactions and acted emotional. I bet I did, because that’s a part of my character and my response to the world. And there probably wouldn’t be a problem with these sayings, had they not been said in a condescending or insulting tone. Eventually that made me believe that feeling emotions (or, at least, certain kinds of them) was bad. It also instilled a belief that adults can control their emotions to the point they choose what to feel and what to avoid.
It wasn’t until my late twenties I realized that no one is actually capable of shutting their emotions down, unless they are a clinically diagnosed psychopath, which is, as you can guess, a pretty bad thing.
As it turns out, correctly managing your emotions can be much more productive then shutting them down and pretending that nothing is happening. In the diverse emotional palette a human being can experience, at least half of the emotions feel unpleasant, and this is the first reason they are shunned and considered bad. The second is probably that, as kids, we aren’t given much time to explore and analyze our inner states. The upbringing of most of us is focused on doing rather than being, which is why when we encounter new emotions we don’t know what to do with them, or rather, how to be with them – how to describe the experience and what those emotions exactly have to say.
These two factors combined make us seek remedies that will make us resistant to feeling bad emotions and, in extreme cases, feeling at all. It is true that, if left unattended, strong emotions can leave us riddled with pain and doubts. However, when treated right, they act as a powerful pathfinder that helps us understand our boundaries, true desires and leads us towards a happy and more fulfilled life.
Let’s take a universal love story plot: a girl is in love with someone, who, as she believes, is not good for her. This causes a lot of pain, and basically serves as the plot-maker for the story. What is exactly the source of pain? It’s not the affection towards the male character on its own, but rather the denial of it by the female character. Acknowledging one’s emotions does not always reduce them to zero, but instead brings clarity and control over one’s inner state.
So next time you google “how not to feel angry” or “how not to be sad,” stop and ask yourself what these emotions are trying to tell you about your own state and your environment. Once addressed correctly, they will become a powerful compass to rely upon.