Get Good At Feeling Bad

Louis Laves-Webb

November 17, 2017

One of the first challenges to a greater level of overall emotional intelligence is knowing how to handle intense or seemingly powerful emotional reactions.

Ultimately, adults are left with two potentially positive options:

  1. To advocate for one’s emotional needs or
  2. To tolerate the seemingly intolerable intensity of an emotional experience.

Let’s more closely examine the benefit and challenge of the latter.

Don’t avoid, try simply noticing

It’s natural to want to avoid feeling bad. However, patterns of avoidance can lead to many longer term problems including: addictions, stagnation, and emotionally limited ways of coping. Another approach, as counter-intuitive as it may first appear is to go toward feeling bad. As you practice “getting better at feeling bad” you begin to increase your capacity to tolerate and feel all of your emotional expressions. By doing so, and “sitting with” your difficult emotions a bit longer you’ll notice that they begin to shift and become less difficult and much easier to experience.

This can lead to more growth, positive changes, and ultimately much greater fulfillment. Additionally, as a byproduct of “going toward your feelings”, you’ll notice your responses to strong emotions may begin to improve overall.

Reflective practice can be best described as simply noticing your feelings and paying attention to your actions.

It’s human nature to casually think about what has has happened during an event. However, a reflective practice involves a conscious effort to truly notice and reflect upon on your feelings and actions and cultivate greater self curiosity.

By being more generally mindful, you will be in a better position to advocate for your needs when required or to tolerate difficult emotional experiences when necessary.

Be mindful of negative perceptions

Emotions are powerful. Because of the level of intensity at times, emotions can negatively influence our thinking. It can be almost second nature to associate negative beliefs or ideas with difficult feelings. However, if you can work to suspend judgment, not make assumptions, or jump to conclusions and instead simply stay aware of your “bad” feelings and even embrace them, then you may just have the opportunity to experience a very different, much more positive reality.

You can take inventory of how you see yourself by spending time on your own. Consider elements related to your emotional life and self-image to be mindful of your beliefs and attitudes. When negative or disempowering thoughts and stories present themselves, you may be in a better position to acknowledge them, ignore them, or change them.

Remember, emotions are simply emotions

Emotions can feel like reality and can feel extremely powerful, but they are only one part of what goes into your decision making processes. Remember, your emotional experiences often shift and change with time. When you’re faced with troubling and/or difficult emotions, continually remind yourself that your emotions in fact will probably change, and that your true growth may lie in what at first may appear emotionally troubling.

But, what about my intuitive voice?

The million dollar question is when your negative experiences are due to an inability to tolerate emotion versus an intuitively guided experience. This is an important question and a difficult one to give a blanket answer to. They can both present similar feelings within our body. However, there maybe several noteworthy differences between the two:

  1. Strong emotions can feel up regulating and can hijack your limbic system whereas intuition can be experienced more deeply and solidly
  2. Intuition can come from a place of “knowing” where intense emotion can come from a place of “feeling”
  3. Intuition can transcend elements of time where emotional experiences can be difficult in the here and now
  4. Intuition is a gut feeling whereas strong emotion is felt in the head or the heart

Stop and wait 5 minutes before taking action

Patience and curiosity are two essential elements needed to “get better at feeling bad”. By waiting just 5 minutes before taking action or coming to a conclusion about a strong emotion, you allow your body and psyche more space to help process your situation.

Be curious about what the strong emotion is bringing up for you

Cultivating greater self-awareness allows for a greater understanding of a situation.

If you can stay curious, you may find that feelings really don’t have time constraints and that there maybe a present situation that brings up feelings from long ago. Furthermore, from a more psychodynamic perspective you maybe unconsciously creating situations in your present life as a way of unconsciously creating an opportunity to heal your from your past. In short, if you can stay curious, there can be opportunities for healing past life experiences that are brought to the surface by present circumstances

Being mindful helps you stay in control

While emotions can be overwhelming, they don’t have to control you. By understanding what emotions are, increasing your capacity to feel all of them, and getting a better sense of why you have the specific emotional responses that you may have in a given situation, you make more room for them, assert greater control over your emotional life, and transform them into a force which can positively influence your life moving forward.

Remember, you’re strong enough to feel bad.

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