Excitement. Joy. Relief. Confidence. Love. Amusement. Hope. We’ve all experienced these positive emotions at some point in our lives.
Rage. Fear. Despair. Shame. Embarrassment. Grief. Disgust. We’ve all experienced these emotions, as well.
Do you notice within yourself a level of discomfort even reading about the second set — the “negative” emotions? I do. Even reading those words I feel within myself an unsettledness of sorts. Rage. Shame. Disgust. Phew! A bit more disquiet inside.
I have been working for some time now on allowing and acknowledging what I believe to be a truth: there are no negative emotions.
I realize that this could easily lead into a discussion around language and semantics, and while I love those discussions that’s not the internal work I’ve been doing around emotions.
We learned to judge our emotions.
I was taught from a very young age to not express negative emotions. They made me weak and other people uncomfortable. I know this is something that many others have been taught as well. Whether this teaching was intentional or not, it was a very clear message about what were good and acceptable emotions and what were not.
For many people, gender played a role in which emotions were acceptable or not. I grew up in a time and place where girls were not supposed to show rage or anger, and for some of us not sadness or other negative emotions, either. Boys were not supposed to show fear or sadness. This is a broad generalization; acceptable/unacceptable emotions also varied considerably among my friends in different racial, socioeconomic, and religious/spiritual groups.
While I have seen considerable progress and change around allowing and cultivating the full emotional spectrum in children — and many adults have been doing the work, as well — I know that we still have a long way to go. Each and every one of us needs to be able to feel and express the full range of human emotions.
As with any change we want to see in the world, it’s up to us to start within first. And, for me, that has included a “re-training” of my brain that all of my emotions are fully good and acceptable and needed and wanted. Even the “negative” ones; the ones that have challenged me and made me incredibly uncomfortable and even scared. And, I have made the choice to actively not label those feelings that make me uncomfortable as negative.
The way we categorize things (here, emotions) makes a huge impact on how we think about and relate to them. I have noticed for myself that as I have been doing this work to accept and feel all emotions as good and needed and holy, rather than as positive or negative, I have been more in touch with what I am truly feeling and experiencing, and have been much less judgmental of myself when I am feeling a “negative” emotion.
What has been eye-opening and cathartic is that as I have allowed and not judged my “negative” emotions, they have been fully felt and I have been able to more easily get back to the business of living and doing my best work. When I stopped holding the emotion, I allowed it to do what it is meant to do: be felt.
Feel your emotions, don’t hold them.
We feel those “negative” emotions whether we want to or not. Pretending they don’t come up for us is futile and a waste of our precious time.
I completely understand why we have labeled our emotions as positive or negative. It’s generally how we feel when one or more of those emotions is happening. We don’t want to feel uncomfortable, so we try to run away from it.
You cannot run away from what is inside of you. It’s staying with you and it will find its way to being seen and heard. Please allow it to be seen and heard in a way that supports you and leads to your growth and wellness. That uncomfortable feeling is only showing you something you need to see.
As humans we try to steer away from the uncomfortable (“negative”), but we cannot steer away from the feelings that make us uncomfortable and still be fully integrated and healthy humans.
Feel them all, then. (Remember, too, that you are responsible for what you do with those feelings.) When you finally allow yourself to feel the whole range of emotions, it can be exhausting and confusing and scary. But it will also lead to much more peace and clarity.
Might you be able to see all of your emotions as just emotions? Not label them positive or negative?
Can you begin to build a healthier relationship with the emotions that have made you uncomfortable and hear what they are trying to tell you?