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3 Good Reasons to Wallow in Despair

Sadness isn't negative; it's just misunderstood.

So-called “negative” emotions like despair get no respect, and wallowing gets even less. But if you feel rotten, I’m here to tell you that there is one thing even worse than wallowing in that rotten feeling, and that is not wallowing in it.

Here are three good reasons why you shouldn’t always turn that frown upside-down.

Reason #1: You’ll feel better sooner

Contrary to popular belief, sadness doesn’t become worse or last longer if you give it your full attention. It’s inattention that makes bad feelings worse and prolongs them.

In The Wisdom of Insecurity, Alan W. Watts said that “pain and the effort to be separate from it are the same thing.”

The more you distract yourself from emotional pain, the longer you’re stuck in it.

When you try not to feel as you do, you’ve got the pain of despair and the misery of struggling against it.

Remember back in high school when you got your heart broken and had to walk around pretending it didn’t matter? Don’t do that to yourself. Admit you’re in pain, at least in the privacy of your own thoughts.

As counter-intuitive as it may be, the fastest way out of emotional pain is through it.

Reason #2: Increased self-confidence

While we’re on the subject of counter-intuitive facts, you might wonder what self-confidence has to do with feeling like crud.

Confidence is not a thing in itself, existing apart from you like something you order online. It’s more like the visible tip of an iceberg, or a flower with roots in the ground.

Confidence has a source.

And no, it’s not having a great body or being an extrovert or driving a cool car that makes you feel genuinely confident.

The source of real confidence is self-acceptance.

Trying to appear as something other than you are (e.g., OK when you’re not OK) undermines self-acceptance. You’re telling yourself, “My feelings are inappropriate/pathetic/unseemly and that’s why I’m hiding them.” Good luck feeling confident when that's going on.

What if you knew for certain that it’s normal to feel despair sometimes?

It is.

What if you knew you were acceptable as a person, no matter how bad you feel?

You are.

By consciously choosing to let yourself experience the blues when they come calling, you’re embracing your humanity as well as those parts of yourself that were banished before.

Wallowing is self-acceptance in action. And self-acceptance breeds confidence.

Don’t take my word for it; please try this at home.

Reason 3: Closer relationships

Are you lonely even when you’re in a relationship? You can’t be closer to anyone than you are to yourself.

Emotional intimacy (i.e., true closeness) is impossible unless you embrace your own emotions.

When you refuse to wallow in despair, it’s like you’re saying to yourself, “I don’t want to be around you if you’re going to be negative.”

Like it or not, the same message will come through when your loved ones are in despair, no matter what you say. You’ll urge them to look on the bright side, or think of the future, or compare their situation to worse ones.

You’ll try to persuade them not to despair. You might even chuckle to lighten the mood.

All these behaviors send a message of disapproval and push the sufferer away, even if that’s not your intent.

Intimacy can’t exist where certain emotions are not allowed.

When you let yourself wallow in your own despair as needed, you’ll feel more comfortable around other people’s. You can remain close, and become even closer, when times are hard.

You can forge bonds that soothe loneliness and keep you warm at night.

How to wallow

If you’re in despair, just be there. Don’t try to change the feeling; name it instead.

In your heart, let the despair wash over you. Tell yourself things like, “I’m in despair” and “I’m feeling despair right now” and “This is despair.”

Don’t try to shake it off and for Heaven’s sake don’t act on it. Feelings are harmless, but behavior isn’t.

Remember self-compassion. Kindness is the appropriate response to a person in pain.

Don’t worry about getting stuck in despair. Emotional pain itself (as opposed to thoughts or attitudes about the pain) lasts only a minute or two.

Wallow well, and let me know how it goes.

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

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