Everybody wants to be healthy and happy. In recent years with the explosion of Positive Psychology (the study of what makes people happy) and self-help books on positive thinking and focusing on what you want, its easy to believe that we should never feel bad, or that if we do, we’re doing something wrong.
So what about sadness, anger, grief, worry, guilt and all those feelings we tend to label as ‘negative’? Are we supposed to just push them away in an effort to feel better? Actually, no. Calling feelings good or bad, positive or negative, perhaps helps us label how we feel about those emotions, but it can be unhelpful. We tend to want to avoid the bad, push those difficult feelings away, ignore them or suppress them. In reality, that’s not healthy. Suppressing difficult emotions doesn’t make them go away – it’s like brushing them under the carpet, after a while a lump builds up. If we’re doing a lot of suppression, in time that can affect our health and wellbeing. In relationships, if we’re not expressing our feelings, although me might think we’re keeping a lid on them – they often leak out sideways instead.
Rather than avoiding difficult feelings, we need to practice facing them. Mindfulness teaches us to ‘see if you can accept how you are feeling in this moment’ without judging a feeling to be good or bad – it just is. When we withhold judgement of our emotions, we can learn to sit with our feelings, even for moments at a time. This approach teaches us to honour our feelings. We are human, and suffering is often part of life, there is much to learn from our struggles. Often our greatest growth comes from our most difficult times – but not if we push those feelings away. Our feelings are like signals, telling us something about how we are experiencing the world. They can alert us to our thinking styles, belief systems and values and we become aware that how we think and behave influences how we feel.
Strangely enough, when we avoid something and try to push it away, it often just gets bigger and stronger. Our fear of being overwhelmed, our wish not to feel bad, can often drive us into avoidance behaviours where we eat, drink, gamble or feed other addictions – anything to avoid what’s really going on inside. But it doesn’t help in the long run; it pushes one symptom down only for it to pop up somewhere else. Resistance is futile! Instead, slow down, tune in and see if you can allow whatever you are feeling to be there for this moment, without judgement, and if possible, with kindness towards yourself. You may be surprised to find that the feeling you have been avoiding isn’t so scary after all. Or you may need to find a way to appropriately express your feelings so that you can begin to move on. And if the feelings are really too dark and too threatening, you may need the support and guidance of a good therapist to help you process what is going on, so that you don’t have to carry those difficult feelings around within you any more.
Your feelings are part of you, so welcome and embrace them all.
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Excerpt From Rumi, ‘The Guest House’