Handling difficult emotions
Sadness, fear, anger, disappointment, exhaustion, loneliness. Sometimes we experience emotions that are not easy to deal with. What can one do when feeling bad?
Your emotions may have different causes and thus call for different action. But there is one thing you can always do: instead of pressuring yourself not to feel bad, give yourself permission to feel the emotion first. You might move on faster that way.
The following article explains what it means to give yourself permission to feel what you are feeling, why you should do it, and how to.
Giving yourself permission to feel what you are feeling
What it means
Giving yourself permission to feel what you are feeling means that you accept that it is OK to feel like you do. That it is not a failure.
We often do not accept our negative feelings. We think we should not feel them, and we want to change the actual emotions quickly into something else.
Think of moments when you felt bad and of the thoughts that followed, such as:
“I need to pull myself together. It is not cool to feel like this. I should not feel like this. Probably I am not strong enough, not mature enough, not good enough… if I feel like this.”
Do you recognize the type of thoughts? They are the opposite of giving yourself permission to sometimes feel bad. It is treating yourself as if you didn´t have the right to sometimes feel negative (sad, angry, lonely etc.). As if it meant personal failure. As if your ideal self should never ever feel like you actually do.
Why you should
Negative emotions are important too, for a whole range of reasons, including:
It is unrealistic to never feel bad.
Probably nobody wants to feel sad. Nobody likes feeling afraid or worried, disappointed or angry, lonely or helpless. But we all do, sometimes. And that is OK, because emotions are here to give us messages we might otherwise miss.
You can reduce the secondary difficult emotions.
Whatever caused your difficult emotions, it is very often not just them, but also “feeling bad about feeling bad” that throws us off balance. For example, on top of feeling worried or lonely, you also feel angry, or self-pitying or disappointed with yourself. But you don’t need to make things even harder for yourself.
Focus makes progress faster.
More self-acceptance will help you reduce the secondary emotions and focus on the primary ones. Instead of devoting your energy to trying not to feel the emotions, you can now devote it to understanding them and doing something about their causes, and then move on.
Avoided emotions tend to come back, repeatedly and stronger.
One day you will need to face the emotion if you want to move on. This step cannot usually be skipped. The more topics and emotions we lock up at the back of our minds, the higher the risk to our mental and physical well-being. Every now and then, air your emotions.
Negative emotions are not useless emotions.
Emotions are strong tools of our mind to grab our attention and point at something. Every emotion is here to give you some message – the stronger the emotion, the more important the message. The emotion is asking you to pay attention to something and you might need to do so if you want to start feeling better, though this is not the same as letting your emotion dictate your action.
How you can do it
Accept that even negative emotions are a part of you.
Give yourself permission to feel the whole spectrum of emotions, without feeling angry at yourself or interpreting it as a weakness. It is human to feel all sorts of different emotions and combinations of emotions.
Also give expression to your unpleasant emotions.
There are many social situations when it is difficult to let the emotions flow, and you might be under social pressure to hide them. Balance this by giving your emotions some other opportunity to flow. Sharing your emotions with someone you trust can be healing, but watch out: venting your anger or frustration on someone is not. Also, find some time when you are alone – with your cup of coffee, or on your yoga mat, or when having a walk alone – and give your emotions their freedom. Imagine you are telling your emotions that you accept their presence and they can flow.
Take from the emotions what can help you progress
In the next step, you can imagine you are an observer, watching yourself and all your emotions like a movie scene. Name what you are feeling, recognize different emotions appearing on the scene.
What is the role of the emotions you are feeling at the moment in the bigger picture of your life?
What do you need to learn from what you are feeling now, in order to move on?
The message carried behind your emotions is like a key to a treasure chest, and it is up to you whether you take it and use it.
Recognize when it is time to ask for professional help.
It is OK to feel bad sometimes, for example if it is a reaction to something that has happened recently. It is OK to sometimes feel worried, or angry, or sad. Now you are feeling like this, at other times you will feel better and differently. That is life.
But do not hesitate to seek help if your emotions persist and have a strong impact on your everyday life. If you wish to change something in your life, you can use coaching to support you through dilemmas, to help you plan your action and make the change.
Pay particular attention to the negative emotions that have been there for a while without any obvious reason, such as feeling depressed or having strong anxieties, and seek professional help from a GP, a psychologist or a therapist. Why should you suffer like this if there are people who can help you?
You need to give yourself permission to feel sad, so that you can cheer up.
You need to give yourself permission to feel worried, so that you can overcome your fears.
You need to give yourself permission to feel down, so that you can start to come up again.