“I just want to be happy. Is that too much to ask? I want this sadness to go away so I can live my life.”
“I shouldn’t be feeling jealousy about his success, he’s my brother and I know he has worked hard for it.”
“After what happened to me, I just tried to think happy thoughts whenever I felt sad and frustrated.”
Sounds familiar? And you probably wonder what is wrong with thinking this way; Trying to be future-oriented, focusing on positive things, and wanting to be happy. We promote these values as a society, and we grow up being encouraged to embody them.
Sorry to be a party pooper, but I would like to shed light on the values and importance of feeling sad, frustrated, fearful, anxious, jealousy, angry, or whatever emotions that we often refer as “negative feelings.” We see them as “negative” because they don’t seem to help us feel pleasant or achieve what we want.
What I have seen in myself and other fellow humans is that we suffer more when we deny the existence of certain feelings in us, as we spend a great deal of energy on denying. It is as if you only have one hand to use because your other hand is always on duty of making sure the lid is on the Pandora’s box. There are constant anxiety and fears in the back of our minds that say, “it will be a disaster if this anger comes out” or “I will ruin my marriage if I let her know my frustration.” Without knowing, we spend lots of mental, physical, and spiritual energy on managing these “negative” feelings.
I am not writing to give you “5 easy steps to get rid of negative feelings.” I do not believe we can continue to keep negative feelings under control with denial and sugar-coating. If your intention is to befriend yourself and live as a whole person by learning new ways of relating to your emotions, then here are a few pointers for you.
- Know that some emotions are “difficult” rather than “negative,” because we often struggle to accept that we are experiencing them or they just do not feel pleasant to us. Emotions are neither good nor bad: they are neutral, and we judge them as good or bad. In my opinion, there are no “negative” emotions as each emotion brings us useful wisdom and information about us.
- Notice and admit to yourself that you are feeling whichever emotions that arise in you, even if it is the worst feeling you can imagine. If you are feeling guilty about being angry, then admit the guilty feeling as well. It is already there, so there is no point in denying it. Just because you deny it and you are quite good at it, it does not mean it is not there. So admit and accept the existence of the feeling that you are experiencing.
- Make time and space and experience the emotion fully in your body. Emotions arise in the forms of bodily sensations before we add thoughts, judgments, analysis, etc. For example, jealousy feels to me like burning sensations in my belly and throat, as well as tension in my jaws. There is alertness in my body as some destructive force wants to push out. As I stay with the urge it gradually softens and I find sadness that comes from not having something I want or need. If your bodily sensations and/or emotions are overwhelming, you might want to do this with a trustworthy person who can guide you and provide a safe container for you.
- Lastly, if you’d like, gently ask yourself, “what wisdom does this difficult emotion have for me?” Sometimes I find more grieving to do underneath jealousy; or I realize the need to pursue certain elements in relationships that used to be hidden behind anger and frustration. No matter what you learn from them, all emotions are great teachers as they come to us to enrich our relationships with ourselves and others. So give them a fair treatment with respect and gratitude.