CONTRAST OF EMOTION
If I told you I had a magic pill that could get rid of all your negative emotions, would you want to take it?
I think a lot of us would.
We don’t like feeling anxious, angry, afraid, sad, or insecure. So we try to avoid them in one of two ways: We resist them, or we try to numb them out.
What does resisting an emotion mean? It means thinking it shouldn’t be there and that it’s a problem. Think about it like trying to hold a beach ball underwater. It takes so much effort, and it never succeeds for long. The ball keeps coming back up, and so will your negative emotions if you resist them or try to shove them down or away.
And what is numbing out?
It’s when you use food, booze, drugs, shopping, gambling, your phone, or anything else to distract yourself from being present with your feelings.
The downside is that whether you resist or numb out, your negative emotion is still there. It has nowhere to go. You haven’t processed it or dealt with it, so it just festers.
Starting today, I’d like to encourage you to welcome your negative emotions. Not just tolerate them, not just white-knuckle through them—but actually embrace them.
I know, it sounds crazy. Stay with me!
It’s worth it, and here’s why: Because experiencing the beauty of positive emotions pretty much requires we be willing to experience negative emotions, too.
It’s the contrast between negative and positive that helps us experience the joys of love, connection, gratitude, excitement, and all the other emotions we want to feel. Life is full of contrast. Hunger then fullness, waking then sleeping, love and loss, happiness and sadness. It’s the contrast that lets us enjoy them. If you always felt amazing, you wouldn’t even know it was amazing.
But since many of us don’t know how to cope with or process emotion appropriately, we do whatever we can to avoid negative emotions. We never let ourselves get hungry, even though that would allow us to truly experience fullness. We never allow ourselves to love fully, since we could get hurt later. We don’t take risks, and so we sacrifice feeling proud of ourselves, to avoid feeling shame.
We sacrifice so much in order to avoid having a negative emotion. But negative emotions are not a problem, and they’re not an emergency. They’re harmless.
I’m going to say that again: Negative emotions are harmless. They’re just sensations in your body.
So what if you embraced contrast? What if you were willing to have any emotion? What if you welcomed negative emotion?
Stop and think about it: What would it be like if you were excited to have negative emotions? What if you were jazzed to feel anger or fear? What if you looked forward to feeling insecurity, anxiety, or shame? How would that change your life?
And not just because it is what makes positive emotion possible, but because every emotion teaches you something about your own brain.
Any time you have a negative emotion, it’s caused by a thought. The more you welcome those emotions, the better you can figure out what thoughts are underneath them. And the more you learn about your thoughts, the more control you have over your life.
Your negative emotions aren’t something to reject and push away—they’re part of you. And they’re an invitation to bring your attention to your brain and to yourself. Every negative emotion is telling you something, but when you’re trying to drown it out, you can’t hear the message.
Your negative emotions aren’t a sign that something has gone wrong, and they can’t hurt you. If you learn to listen to them, they will help you live a deeper, richer life, and they will teach you what you need to know about yourself.
If reading this made you realize you’re resisting your feelings by numbing out, The Clutch is the answer. I teach my clients how to actually experience their feelings without getting overwhelmed, side-tracked, or lost. Learn more here.