Dealing with Negative Emotions

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I feel like we are all searching for a magic bullet answer about to how to prevent feeling negative emotions. Or maybe this is a subconscious goal when we read self-help books, go to therapy, seek out advice from others, watch with wide eyes as others go through trials and tribulations and take notes in our heads about how we can strap a bullet-proof vest onto our own beating hearts to protect ourselves. We want somebody to tell us how we can stop feeling pain. The goal is misguided.

Haruki Murokami said, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

We will never succeed at eradicating negative emotions or eliminating pain. Feeling pain means you are alive. You can, however, learn how to manage the pain.

When we are small children and we touch a hot pan for the first time, we learn that it hurts and we shouldn’t do that again (some of us take longer than others).

Emotional pain, and dealing with it, is a more complex beast. It’s easy to learn how to keep our hands away from the fire. Not so with emotional pain. There are so many factors beyond our control, and the mind feels like a vast ocean, too deep for us to fully understand, and easy to get lost in even with the best navigation tools.

This is what I’ve concluded about dealing with negative emotions: you can’t avoid them. And you don’t suck as a person if you feel them. It just means you are alive–a human being–if you feel negative emotions. The good, the bad, and everything in between. We don’t get to pick and choose. We have to feel it all.

The best advice I ever read on the matter was the following quote by Mooji:

“Feelings are just visitors, let them come and go.”

I try to always remember this when I feel like crap. I am never, ever going to get rid of having negative feelings. I just have to get smart about dealing with them. Hopefully decrease them. Most importantly, realize that these negative feelings don’t define me or represent my self-worth.

This, I think, is what differentiates the “strong” people from those who have difficulty managing their feelings. “Strong” people are not immune to feeling negative. They are not immune to bouts of low self-esteem. Strong people are not sub-human robots. Strong people learn to compartmentalize the negativity. They have mental tools that give them the resilience to not let negative feelings swallow them up.

I was recently asked how can I be a strong feminist and still have self-loathing thoughts about dating (I’m paraphrasing). It was an excellent question.

My answer: because I’m human.

I feel things intensely (some people may call this dramatic. I call it a highly evolved, emotive human being.) I gave birth to each of my children without drugs. The last one weighed an unexpected and whopping 10 lbs. 3 oz. and hurt like hell. If I ever have more children, I won’t hesitate to opt for no drugs again. I believe pain has a purpose. I want to feel it. I want it to guide me to something better. I want to lean in and listen and feel how my body and mind responds and I want to channel it to strengthen my mental and physical constitution. When my husband died, I deliberately avoided alcohol. I wasn’t going to self-medicate. I wanted to feel everything, even when it felt like it was going to split me in half. I wanted the feelings to sear through every fiber of my being and I wanted to remember all of it.

Once I feel the intensity of my pain, the next step is to get it out of my system. Let it go. I don’t want to carry it around. I don’t want to let it eat away at my insides. I learn from it. I fix what I can.

And then, I have to move on.

Feel it. Then let it go.

People let things go in different ways. I’ve been writing in various capacities throughout my entire life. I have a collection of journals and I almost always have one with me at any given moment. When I write, it’s a way for me to process my feelings and thoughts.

Some people haven’t figured out how to let things go.

I have never regretted feeling my feelings. But I don’t bottle them up. There is no shame.

You just can’t get stuck. You can’t hold on to the negative feelings. You have to let them go. I mean, you can keep them if you want, as long as you don’t mind being miserable.

But I want to live well. So mine have to leave.

When I write about times when I feel like I suck at life, it doesn’t mean that’s how I am feeling on that particular day. Writing is a process that takes a lot of time. Often when you are reading something I’ve written, it’s about something that has already happened. You would think I’m a total spaz if I live-reported my every thought. I’ll reserve that stream of consciousness for my journals.

Just don’t get stuck. That’s the best advice I can give about anything.

1 Comment

  1. Good advice Teresa. Sometimes when I feel fed up, I have complete amnesia with regards to all the positive self help books I have read over the years, but sometimes a lightening bolt will come into my mind ‘this too shall pass’, and it does. If we can just somehow remember all the times when we felt fed up and it passed, so we think ‘Oh yeah I remember that time I felt fed up and it passed’, that would help!!


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