Constructive Wallowing

How to beat bad feelings by letting yourself have them

Upset About Something? Here's What to Do

Relationship troubles, a bad work environment, lack of purpose or meaning in life -- for most of us these are painful problems. In fact, most of the problems we face are emotional because if we didn’t have emotions, they wouldn’t be problems! The solution lies in our emotions, too. But it may not be what we've been led to believe. Read More

Thank you

Thank you for this article, Tina.

I'm a person - with a long history of clinical depression and anxiety - and I routinely stuff down my feelings...sometimes I even forget I have them. But this "strategy" to appear to be "keeping it together" has never, ever helped me - and in fact, I find that sooner or later (usually sooner), the feelings will come out one way or another and usually in a much more powerful fashion.

I also love how simple "if you're upset, be upset!" is; I often think I have to do more, write more, heal more, do more self-help work and therapy, work more/work less, problem-solve, etc. in response to upsetting situations (especially of the prolonged sort). What a relief it can be to simply let myself feel what I feel, fully.

The hard part though, is that I feel society generally doesn't give that permission to people - e. g. if you're grieving a loss, sometimes you're pressured to return to your work/responsibilities quickly, rather than take the time you need to grieve. Do you have any tips for people in that kind of situation? And is it always best to be upset privately?

Wallowing and upset are for those who won't grow up

Adults control their emotions; children allow emotions to control them.
Wallowing means an individual lacks emotional maturity neccessary to adequately deal with life. "Getting upset" (having a tantrum) will lead to social failures. Adults do not need to be reminded of this.

"Getting upset" does not equal "having a tantrum"

Allowing oneself to feel emotions has nothing to do with being "childish" or "grown-up" and it's also not "wallowing".

Your comment could be seen as borderline belittling to adults who are dealing with upsetting things in their lives - and I can assure you telling us to "grow up" never did and never will help.
So while I trust that your comment had no such intention or ill-will, I just wanted to let you know it could be slightly offensive to some - especially since I have the feeling many of the people reading this might be very sensitive people (I am, for example).

It sounds to me like you have a great deal of discomfort surrounding difficult emotions. But they are a part of life - and did you know that crying for example, actually relieves stress? I read somewhere that tears contain chemical byproducts of stress - so tears serve a purpose, at the very least in the biochemical sense of ridding the body of stress-produced toxins.

"Getting upset" does not equate to "having a tantrum". There are many ways adults can release negative emotions that look nothing like a "tantrum". While you have a point that emotional outbursts can indeed cause social mishaps, there are many ways to be upset (and "sit" with that upset - in a mindful manner) that don't involve outbursts or social risks.

And I do not believe adults can "control their emotions" - it's true that we can control how we respond/react to them (and CBT can help change the cognitions that lead to such feelings) - maybe this is what you are referring to - but in the end, we are emotional beings and not automatons.

We are rational beings first

My previous comment was merely stating the values surrounding emotions in our culture. If you do yourself a disservice by acting contrary.

Point well-taken

I see your point, and it is well-taken: our culture does indeed view emotions in such a way.

I think we are both rational and emotional beings, and I personally see value in expressing emotions (in the many ways that this can be done appropriately - i.e. in ways that won't disservice ourselves or others).

Thanks for the interesting debate we've had here.

Good Strategy

I feel that by not suppressing our feelings we are being gentle and kind to ourselves. Feelings exist and have real consequences in our lives so they need to be dealt with in a proper fashion. By wallowing in our sadness we may find the real cause for our sadness(which is sometimes hidden). Not suppressing our feelings and giving them a vent is a proper method for managing our emotions.

Great discussion!

Thank you, dear readers, for your thoughtful discussion of this post.

B., you're very welcome for the article, and I think you succeeded in answering your own question above when you wrote in a subsequent comment that "there are many ways to be upset (and 'sit' with that upset - in a mindful manner) that don't involve outbursts or social risks."

If we're grieving and we get pushed back to work before we're ready, we can still afford ourselves room to go through our grief in the ways you allude to. Making more time than usual for rest outside of work hours is an example.

Above all we can choose patience and compassion over pushing ourselves to get over something faster than Nature intends.

As for whether it's best to be upset privately, I think that depends on the quality of your relationships. (Might be a good topic for another post.)

Thanks again, everyone, for taking the time to leave your comments.

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Counselor and workshop leader Tina Gilbertson, LPC is the author of Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings By Letting Yourself Have Them.

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