What if the reason we have difficulty in facing negative feelings, is because we have been dealing with them the wrong way?
In this post, I’d like to share with you something that has been incredibly helpful for me when it comes to letting go of negative feelings. Applying this has made my life easier, and it's helped me to let go of fearing any of my emotions as I used to.
For many of you this may be a completely new approach, perhaps one you might have never heard before, therefore, I’d like you to apply this into your own life before you form your opinions around it.
But first, I’d like to talk about why some of the usual ways we approach and deal with our feelings, actually make things worse than better.
One of the most common ways we react to unpleasant feelings is to fight or resist the feelings through our thoughts.
Resistance, simply put is the opposite of accepting what is happening. Or in other words, being in an internal conflict with a situation or event in our lives.
This may include thoughts or dialogues in the mind like,
This is not supposed to happen.
I don’t deserve this.
I wish I was not feeling this way
The thoughts or dialogues that may arise to resist the emotions or sensations are endless.
Most often these thoughts arise in our mind almost instantly and involuntarily when we are experiencing unpleasant emotions.
Thoughts like these, however, don’t end up making us feel any better, but rather it has the opposite effect and feeds the unpleasant emotions with more energy. And before we know it, we are feeling worse. After all, it’s no secret that when we entertain negative thoughts in our mind, it tends to manifest as unpleasant emotions.
Avoidance and suppression
Psychologists over the years have said that our minds are instinctively wired to pursue pleasure and avoid pain.
This often leads us to indulge in instant gratification behaviours in order to avoid being with the feelings or to suppress it. This tendency of our mind may sometimes unconsciously influence our behaviour to seek out pleasurable activities when we are feeling down.
This may be in the form of eating comfort foods, shopping, binge-watching, indulging in alcohol or drugs, etc. which can serve as a distraction from being with our feelings.
While suppression or avoidance may work in the short term, it certainly isn’t an ideal way to deal with emotions, since unresolved feelings and emotions can eventually take a toll on our mental and physical health.
Moreover dependence on alcohol and drugs to deal with emotions can be destructive in the long run.
So how can we deal with our emotions better?
We tend to resort to resistance, suppression and avoidance because we often view unpleasant feelings as bad or negative and as something that needs to be fixed. And as long as we classify certain feelings or emotions as bad or negative, the mind will instinctively try to resist or suppress such emotions.
The key to effectively deal with our emotions lies in acceptance. Now that sounds counter-intuitive and may seem like horrible advice. But, allow me to explain. So what do I mean by acceptance?
Acceptance means allowing yourself to feel whatever emotions you are feeling in the moment and not judging it as bad.
As Eckhart Tolle puts it,
“It does not mean to passively put up with whatever situation you find yourself in and to do nothing about it. Nor does it mean to cease making plans or initiating positive action.”
Acceptance is to simply accept what we are feeling right now, with the understanding that all the resistance in the world does not make the situation any better. Desperately wishing we shouldn’t be feeling a certain way doesn’t make us feel any better. In other words, our feelings can’t be wished away by our thoughts or our mere desire.
What we may not realise, is that the feelings themselves are not the problem.
But, rather it is our belief that certain feelings are bad, and judging them negatively through our thoughts that creates the problem.
However, as Shakespeare once said, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. “
Instead, give yourself permission to feel all feelings; with the understanding, there is nothing you are not supposed to feel. All emotions are valid. Running away from feelings is not beneficial in the long term. Acceptance, on the other hand, gives you freedom to not let certain emotions control your life.
Seeing feelings as visitors
Seeing our feelings from a new perspective can help us to accept them.
We all know that all feelings and sensations we experience are temporary. That is they always come and go. This was something I kept hearing when I did a 10-day Vipassana meditation course, but this is the last thing on our minds when we are experiencing unpleasant emotions.
To deal with our emotions better, it involves looking at our feelings with a new perspective. It helps to see them in a lighter vein and not as something to be feared or avoided at all costs.
See feelings as visitors, for they always come and go. Welcome them with acceptance. While they are present, neither fight nor avoid them. All they want is your acceptance and attention. Once you give them what they seek, they will be on their way, before long. Trying to fight them only makes things worse.
However, most of us have been used to resisting and avoiding our feelings all our lives. Therefore taking this realisation into heart alone doesn’t help. What will help, however, is using a technique each time you are faced with negative emotions.
Here is something you can practically apply each time, to deal with any unpleasant emotions that arise,
Observe the unpleasant sensation as it arises and focus your attention to feeling the sensation fully
Make a conscious decision to let go of all negative thoughts and judgement towards the feeling.
If and when unpleasant thoughts creeps in, bring back your attention into the feeling each time.
Let go of the need to try to fix or mentally analyse the situation with your mind.
Remind yourself that all unpleasant sensations are temporary and will pass away.
Eckhart Tolle, explains acceptance in great detail in his bestselling book, The Power of Now. He says,
Don’t turn away from the pain. Face it. Feely it Fully- don’t think about it! Give all your attention to the feeling, not to the person, event or situation that seems to have caused it.
As you go into the feeling, be intensely alert. At first, it may seem like a dark and terrifying place, and when the urge to turn away from it comes, observe it but don’t act on it. Keep putting your attention on the pain, keep feeling the grief, the fear, the dread, the loneliness, whatever it is. Stay alert, stay present – present with your whole being.
If you cannot accept what is outside, then accept what is inside. If you cannot accept the external condition then accept the internal condition. This means do not resist the pain. Allow it to be there.
Oftentimes it is our very urge to escape the negative emotions, that makes it difficult to let go of it, he explains,
“Don't look for peace. Don't look for any other state than the one you are in now; otherwise, you will set up inner conflict and unconscious resistance. Forgive yourself for not being at peace. The moment you completely accept your non-peace, your non-peace becomes transmuted into peace. Anything you accept fully will get you there, will take you into peace."
Our feelings, after all, are merely sensations in our body. We give it too much power over us when we try to deal with them through resistance, avoidance and suppression.
I still get in the trap of resisting my emotions sometimes, but whenever I do, it never feels good, and I remind myself that accepting my feelings is always the most sensible option.
The next time you are faced with any unpleasant feelings, try this and see what happens.
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