I shouldn’t be feeling this way.
If I ignore this emotion, it’ll go away.
It’s not a big deal.
This, too, shall pass.
Everything will be fine.
Focus on something else.
Any of these phrases sound familiar? I bet they do. But none of them will do you any good, or make you any happier, if you spend your down days, down weeks, or even down months, ignoring tough emotions instead of learning from them, accepting them, and using them to grow as a person.
As someone who practices mindfulness and meditation, I can tell you that a constant focus on trying to “be happy” or embracing false positivity doesn’t do any good. I’ve learned that one of the most powerful outcomes of mindfulness and meditation is to accept emotions for what they are without judgment. No more, and no less. This isn’t always an easy thing to do, but I try.
Which brings me to the point of today’s blog.
There’s a big difference between dealing with the world and life as it is, and not as we wish it to be. (BOY, do I know the difference!) But when we focus on false positivity—the mindset of viewing emotions as either good or bad, positive or negative—we lose our capacity to develop deep skills that help us deal with the world and life as it is.
“A third of us—A THIRD—either judge ourselves for having so-called “bad emotions,” like sadness, anger or even grief. Or actively try to push aside these feelings. We do this not only to ourselves, but also to people we love, like our children—we may inadvertently shame them out of emotions seen as negative, jump to a solution, and fail to help them to see these emotions as inherently valuable.”
Research on emotional suppression shows that when emotions are shoved away or ignored, they get stronger. It’s what psychologists call amplification. Much like the yummy ice cream in your freezer or the new and decadent burger joint that just opened in your neighborhood, the more you try to ignore it, the greater its hold on you. So while you may think you’re in control of unwanted emotions when you ignore them, it’s actually the emotions that control you. Every time. Every day. Always. And in the end, someone always pays the price, usually the people closest to us.
Not to mention ourselves.
What this boils down to is switching to a focus on emotional agility. So what the heck does that mean?
Well, believe it or not, emotional agility doesn’t focus on being happy. Instead, it means accepting all your emotions. Even the messy, difficult, and ugly ones. More than that, it’s about labeling your feelings accurately. You may say you’re stressed when in fact you’re disappointed in your job and want to move on. You may say your relationship is making you miserable when in fact you’ve become bored and want to bring excitement back into it. You may say your friend is annoying when in fact their excitement about their recent good fortune is making you feel like your life is lacking. And that’s the key difference. When you uncover the precise cause of your feelings, you actually become ready for change. It’s what scientists call “readiness potential”, and it signals to our brain that we’re ready to take charge and take the steps toward making our own life better. Steps that are right for us, and only us.
See, emotions are like a flashing red light. They alert us to the things we care about. Find yourself yelling and screaming at the nightly news? That rage could be a signal that you value equity and fairness. Bristle when you see a parent yell at their child in public? That discomfort could be a signal you value empathy and compassion. Whatever the emotion, whatever the signal, these are opportunities to take active steps to shape your life in a positive and more fulfilling direction.
So how do you switch from shoving away strong emotions to embracing them for better change? What does this look like in practice? Here’s some practical advice:
- When you feel a powerful or tough emotion surface, don’t race for the emotional exits or try to ignore the emotion or push it away. Instead, let it do what it has to do. Feel it. Learn its contours and shape. Believe it or not, the emotion won’t make you a bad person. More than that, any bad emotions you’re feeling eventually fade. Just look at it with curiosity and without judgment.
- Listen to what the emotion is telling you. It’s best to avoid saying “I am” as in “I’m angry” or “I’m sad.” When you do this and say “I am”, you’re telling yourself that you are that emotion. In truth, you are you, and the emotion is giving you a signal. So, try to notice the feeling for what it is: “I’m noticing that I’m feeling sad” or “I’m noticing that I’m feeling angry.”
- Explore your underlying values triggering the emotion. Compassion. A sense of fairness. An insecurity that suddenly surfaced. Whatever the value is, use it to your advantage. To grow.
This emotional agility gives you the ability to be with your emotions with curiosity, compassion, and especially the courage to take values-connected steps. Which will help lead to a happier life.
Remember: you own your emotions. They don’t own you.
On a final note, I wish I could take credit for this wonderful advice, but I can’t. This content was wonderfully curated by the folks at mindful.org. I suggest you click the link and head to their site so you can read even more inspiring thoughts on this subject.
♥ Namaste ♥
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