All of us in life at one time, if not regularly, experience negative and often intense emotions. Feelings of sadness, frustration, anger, and disappointment all serve a purpose, but often their purpose is lost. In our haste to anaesthetize ourselves we prefer, or even consciously desire, to dull these feelings and avoid them. This is understandable. Intense, negative emotion has been proven to be experienced by us as if we are in real physical pain and clearly it is in both our interests, and our ability, to treat physical pain with tablets and other methods. We do not enjoy feeling in pain. Neural pathways light up, agitating us and alerting us to the obvious signal something is WRONG!

The problem though, is that emotional pain although felt the same way, and undoubtedly triggering a perception of stress, is telling us something. To ignore that message might mean to miss the point. Vital information is contained within that emotion, information that if we were to listen would direct us towards what we need to do about any situation we are in, and that action might help us. Emotions are therefore signposts.

Negative emotions tell us we are hurting but when we anaesthetize these it is a temporary solution and doesn’t deal with the ‘real’ issue at hand.

Perhaps the real issue is that we are lonely, tired, troubled by the actions of others, or the things they say?

In our attempt to speed up the experience of these emotions and either avoid them or reduce the length of time we feel them, we are minimizing their impact instead of listening to them. It is as if they are an inner voice and I am not sure we do ourselves any favours when we try to silence them. Instead, we can learn a great deal, both about what that emotion is telling us and how that pain or disappointment might be better resolved. What is the worst thing that can happen? We may be upset and scared but if that’s what it takes to ‘show’ us we need support, advice, fresh ideas, or a companion to go with us somewhere, then surely that’s ok? If we do not do anything about the real issue, the emotion attached to it is far more likely to return. When it returns it will still wave at us? Like a flag warning us to be ‘aware’ – if we ignore it that emotion returns.Underneath the pain, disappointment, or frustration is a decision; a decision waiting to happen, and I feel we are more likely to get better results from teaching people how to handle or cope with the moment they feel an emotional pain than teaching them it’s okay to walk away or dull the experience. That way, the real issue, and the decision you make about it, will emerge.

When people come in to the practice, especially young people, I see this trait more often. It is a skill in life to learn to handle negative emotions rather than want to run from them and this is a skill not all of us learn. Some don’t learn it well, and some don’t learn it at all.

The same person may have tried to deal well with emotional struggle, as a teenager perhaps but found either that it was simply too ‘hard’, or if their parents didn’t cope well with anger, sadness, rage, or disappointment, then they too didn’t adopt healthier, calmer patterns of behaviour. Although it is simple to say and difficult to do, we all need to stay calm in the face of our struggles otherwise we can panic, become over-anxious, desire to run and avoid the difficulty. This leads to other symptoms such as absence from work, drinking, overeating sugar because we think it soothes us, and further symptoms which may seem utterly unrelated such as sudden, unexpected outbursts of anger at random upsets.

Instead, learning to allow the emotion to come up and be felt in your mind, body and energy levels, helps you determine both the significance of the emotion, the intensity of it (so how bad is it), and helps determine what you need. This life skill can be learnt at any time but often I see adults who haven’t done, and the habit of avoidance becomes deeply ingrained.

  • Let’s look at an example; if someone moves to a new job and finds they must move to a new house too then everything they do is new. They need to make friends, work out what the job entails, do they know where everything is, will they settle in and feel they’ve done the right thing? In the first few weeks it can be nerve racking, difficult, tiring and maybe even anxious, and all this is enough to give them some very low moments if not troublesome moods. During those moods an individual can feel rising pessimism, panic and bewilderment so is it any wonder they might choose to avoid or soothe this rather than ‘sit with it’. Feeling out of our depth or comfort zone is a natural, if hopefully infrequent, event and needs a bit of time. Speeding it up isn’t wrong but it helps to experience it at least some of the time so that you can work out whether what you’ve done is a good idea or something you really feel has been a mistake.

So, what do you need to do instead. Here are a few things you can do: –

Sit without alcohol or any other substance for 15 to 30 minutes minimum and wait. Allow the mood to travel through you and pick up not just ‘what’ you are feeling but ‘why’ you are feeling it. What emotion are you experiencing, is there a reason for it and if so, what is it?

Depending on what you’re feeling, analyse it for a few minutes. Is this reasonable? Can you see if there is a ‘real’ reason for feeling it or are you just suffering self-doubt, a bit of anxiety, uncertainty. If so,    what is going on underneath? What can you think of that will help? Who do you need to talk to or what would you say if you did? Can your boss help, a friend, a member of your family?

Reach out for help or advice. All too often we think we are being silly or that others will judge us. Being lonely for example, isn’t easy and takes time and effort to alter but we don’t have to tell people that’s what’s wrong. Can you turn it in to a request someone can help with? Could they join you as a friend so that you can go to the cinema, have a meal, join a club you’re interested in or visit somewhere you’d like to see? Companionship can be short lived but get you started and asking if someone would come with you helps you get over the fear

Tackle your thoughts. We are often self-critical or negative when this might not be helpful. Read books or listen to audio recordings to build your confidence. Assertiveness for example, is another skill we need and without it we can be passive which results in resentment or disappointment. The emotions we feel are therefore the aggravation or disappointment but the ‘real issue underneath’ is the lack of assertiveness needed to speak up. Remedying that through an online course, reading or practicing what you want to say to a friend, helps enormously.

Keep a Journal. If you can’t identify what’s going on underneath try keeping a journal. Note the triggers or situations and the emotions they evoke. Does it happen with the same type of event, or a particular individual perhaps? What are you doing, or not doing, and can you think of anything that would alter the experience?

Consider the impact of it. If you really feel you can handle the situation then the difficulty or emotional struggle may be short-lived, but if you are deeply stressed try to decide that you will resolve this (even if by making a hard decision to leave), by a certain date so that you are not continually and bitterly unhappy. If not, then deep stress might need help through a counsellor so that you can work through it together.

Everyone deserves to feel happy as much as they can in life so good luck and let me know how you get on?