Written by Dr. Eric Perry, PhD
Image Credit: Pixabay
“The way I see it, if you want the rainbow you gotta put up with the rain.” ~Dolly Parton
There seems to be a perception that certain feelings are bad and others are good. While some feelings such as happiness may feel better than sadness, it is important to remember that there are no good or bad feelings. We are emotional beings and we possess a wide spectrum of feelings, which have a purpose in our lives. Feelings give us the ability to appreciate the beauty of life. They also serve as a safety net to let us know when we are not safe and when our boundaries have been breached. It is important that we allow ourselves to express our feelings without judgment. Otherwise, the suppressed emotions may manifest themselves in an unhealthy manner.
Feelings enrich our lives and add depth to our existence. We are not one-dimensional entities who are capable of only feeling one emotional response. A world where only happiness exists would inevitably lose its luster over time. We must be able to experience feelings such as sadness and unhappiness in order to truly appreciate the opposite end of the feelings spectrum. Without knowing the darkness of sadness we would not be able to appreciate the lightness of happiness. For example, it is normal after the pain of losing a loved one, to find a renewed appreciation for our remaining family members. The pain of the loss leads us to embrace our remaining family members more closely and to feel a deeper love for them.
Feelings cannot be turned off and on as if they are an internal light switch. Feelings possess a life cycle. They start small, they peak and then die off. We often get in the way of the process by judging and stifling our feelings. We are conditioned to avoid pain and seek pleasure. We have a natural tendency to live our lives in pursuit of not engaging in any perceived negative feeling. For example, we may get frustrated and angry at ourselves instead of a family member who hurt our feelings. We may then feel guilty for feeling this way and internally criticize ourselves for being too sensitive. In turn, this causes us to suppress our feelings. Later, these unexpressed feelings may come out in passive-aggressive behaviors toward this individual.
I often see this behavior in couples. After a disagreement, there will often be hurt feelings, resentment and anger that is not expressed. The couple will be in a hurry to return to their happy state and will feel uneasy at the possibility that all is not ok. If the underlying feelings go unexpressed, out of fear, they will often lead to a future minor disagreement that will then lead to a disproportionate disconnect. All the unexpressed feelings that the couple was afraid to discuss and feel will explode and cause a bigger issue.
It is important that we allow ourselves to fully engage with our feelings. By doing so we can acknowledge how we feel and move through the feelings. For example, say you are feeling sadness. It is important to not judge the sadness. You can take a deep breath and acknowledge that you feel sad. I am not suggesting to let yourself get engulfed in a sea of sadness. In the beginning, you can allow yourself to feel the sadness in short manageable bursts. By allowing yourself to feel and challenging yourself to stay compassionate towards yourself, you will begin to widen your emotional bandwidth and normalize feelings such as sadness, despair or anger.
I suggest you practice feeling your emotions the next time you are in a checkout line and the person in front of you is taking a very long time. For the purpose of this example, let’s say the person is purposely taking extra time. They are moving slowly, talking incessantly and acting as if they have nowhere to go. Think of this as an ideal opportunity to exercise at the feelings gym. Start by taking a deep breath in through your nose and allowing yourself to fully experience the discomfort and perhaps annoyance. As you exhale, think to yourself or even say to yourself, “It is ok to feel this feeling.” Don’t judge what you are feeling. If you are annoyed or angry it does not make you a bad person. This can be applied to any uncomfortable feeling you experience. Allow yourself to feel the feeling without engaging with any internal script that attempts to make you feel bad about what you are feeling.
This appears to be a simple and obvious suggestion, but if you pay close attention to your thoughts throughout the day, you will notice how often judgment follows our feelings. Thank you for reading. I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please feel free to leave a comment below.
The thoughts expressed in this blog post are my own and are not meant to create a therapeutic relationship with the reader. This blog does not replace or substitute the help of a mental health professional. Please note, I am unable to answer your specific mental health questions as I am not fully aware of all of the circumstances.
Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology
M.A. in Clinical Psychology
B.A. in Psychology
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