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Dealing with Difficult Emotions

"Go Away" is not the appropriate response to a difficult emotion

We love the highs, don’t we? But the lows? Not so much. And there are a lot of teachers out there trying to tell us that we really don’t need the lows. That we need to get a good attitude and just think positive. But for most of us, this doesn’t really work, or if it does, it doesn’t work for very long. Why? Because it isn’t genuine.

Some people call the more difficult emotions, such as anger, fear and sorrow, negative emotions. But there is actually no such thing as a negative emotion.

Dispersion, Wikipedia, 2015
Source: Dispersion, Wikipedia, 2015

. All emotions are just simple taste buds of life. They tell us about the flavor of our lives. But not only that, they also tell us what is and what is not working for us, and they inform us of the deeper unresolved issues in our lives.

The difficult emotions are often informative about problem areas, unresolved issues and potential solutions to problems. Anger, for example, might tell us that we are stuck in a particular situation we don’t like. And it might even point the way out. Or, it might tell us that someone is really being offensive and we might need to create some boundaries. It might also tell us that someone has triggered an old unresolved sorrow, fear or pain about which we’ve been angry for years. Fear might tell us that we are standing in the middle of the street when a truck is coming. Or, it might tell us that we have some old unresolved issues about security. Sorrow might tell us of the power of a genuine connection lost. It might tell us to be careful not to lose these connections, or it might allow us to grieve and release important losses.

But we will not hear these messages if we are not attuned to listen to them. We get attuned to listening to our emotions by checking in regularly and dialoguing with our emotions, so that they will know that we are open to receiving what they have to say. We do have to power to shut off our emotions entirely, or to repress them so that we don’t really hear their messages, or to play with them in order to manipulate others. But that’s not what they are for. They are our internal messaging system, meant to give us information about self and life.

Sitting with an emotion and just allowing it to express itself might mean getting a piece of paper and letting the emotion just bleed out of the pen onto the paper. It might mean writing a poem or drawing or painting a picture that expresses or even illustrates an emotion. It means taking the time to really hear what the emotion is trying to convey. What it has to convey is NOT some message about someone else. It is a message to us, for us and about us. After all, they are OUR emotions.

Working with these more difficult emotions means turning them into your friends, instead of making them the enemy, as so many so easily do. These emotions are not meant to be sent away, told they are bad, or repressed into the unconscious. They are meant to help us see what is going on in our lives and respond appropriately. Our society does not necessarily support this idea, but it works. It works because when we allow these emotions to give us their message, they don’t have to sneak up on us from the unconscious and sabotage our lives.

More from Andrea Mathews LPC, NCC
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