Hard truth: No matter how many glassy-eyed people try to convince us that “Happiness is a CHOICE and I CHOOSE to be HAPPY!!” it doesn’t work because it’s denial. And you don’t have to believe it, but history has proven that mishandled negative emotions manifest into some pretty horrific events.
Life is terrible and beautiful and heartbreaking and exhilarating — and it’s perfect because it’s all those things. Trying to deny any negative feeling isn’t only the equivalent of slapping your hands over your ears and shrieking, “I can’t hear you!” but it’s refusing to live a genuine existence.
Feelings are like tampons: they serve a purpose, but you have to get them out of you or they turn into something really gross and cause a whole host of extra problems.
As discussed in the brilliant work The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, sustainable contentment lies in finding a balance by acknowledging both positive and negatives in everything. Experiencing a complex range of emotions is one of the best things about being human if you have the guts to explore it.
Stigmatizing negativity as “wrong” or trying to avoid it altogether isn’t working out so well for us as a culture. I want to punch people when they say things like, “Well, there’s no use getting upset about it.”
Sure, there’s no logical reason, but humans aren’t entirely logic-based creatures; that’s why we fall in love. I’d never go to a birthday party and proclaim, “Well, there’s no use in having TOO good a time here because life is going to be the same mundane garbage tomorrow.”
See how insufferable that is when taken to the other extreme?
However, I recognize emotions have a time and place, and nothing good comes in being controlled by any one of them. Unfortunately, I’m one of those people who tends to get consumed by emotion if I’m struggling with something heavy.
I’ve tried suppressing my feelings, but that always backfires tremendously and leaves me in a worse state than before. A number of years ago, I found my solution.
I was going through an awful breakup and trying to learn how to heal a broken heart, which coincided with a personal crisis and everything seemed to suck. The pain of it all was interfering with my life, but I couldn’t afford to lose my momentum.
So, I tried something unorthodox: I started allotting time every day to completely wallow in my misery. Completely sober, I’d look at pictures and go through memories and yell at inanimate stuff and write a bunch of letters I never intended to send.
I just reeeaaally let out all the crazy.
The first time I did it, it took about an hour to wear myself out. And then the next day, when the feelings started nagging me at the beginning of the day, I thought, “Nope. You can deal with this during Wallow Hour! Right now, let’s do this task in front of us.”
It worked! Within a week, my “Cry Time” was down to 15 minutes. Within two weeks, I was sad for a small amount of time each day, but I found myself being free to feel other feelings, like how happy I was to be free to do so many things I’d never had time to try when I was with someone. By taking care of the grief, I cleared room for other emotions to come through.
Years later, I still make a practice of diving right into big emotions when needed. Like a small child trying to get attention, my subconscious lets me know when I need to focus on some specific issue.
I sit with feelings and don’t attempt to deaden the pain with any outside substances; I don’t project it outward onto anyone or anything; I don’t feed my feelings with crappy food or alcohol or whatever other vices I have access to. I just invite them to have their say without trying to “figure out” what they mean or attempting to “fix” them.
I used to struggle with “letting go” of my emotions. Every time I’ve done this practice and let my emotions tell me what they’re there to express, I’ve been amazed at how light I felt afterward. My mind becomes much less judgmental about my problems, which allows me to work on them from an objective mindset. Not only that, but I feel a little more fearless with each practice.
Once I realized I won’t die from terrible feelings, they weren’t so scary.
Mindfulness is about observing feelings without attachment, but I believe in letting myself become engulfed without apology, and then letting my mind heal itself, which it’s designed to do. I can’t do that if I’m trying to ignore the pain alerting me to the thing that’s damaged.
Throwing your own pity party is simple: Schedule a meeting. Invite only one person. No gift bags. Keep it clean and sober but pull out all the stops and feel every single thing your brain has been nagging you with. Repeat daily as needed.
And don’t stress about what to do with those feelings when you’re done; they’ll show themselves out.
Originally published by Elizabeth Z Pardue for YourTango