Whenever we experience a negative emotion we can take comfort in knowing that it is simply a part of life. That negative emotion allows us to fully experience the positive emotion and vice versa.
If we were happy all the time, we wouldn’t have the reference point to identify the emotion of happiness. To experience happiness, you must also have an understanding of sadness.
On it’s face this is not a wild proposition.
But whenever we have a “bad day”, whenever we are feeling less than, this notion goes out the window.
In those moments, most humans look for something outside of themselves to feel better.
Ever reached for a glass of wine (or two) after a “really long day” to “take the edge off” or “wind down”? Ever plow through that whole package of Oreos because you were feeling lonely on a Friday night?
Those actions are intended to bury that negative emotion. It is our attempt to buffer the negative feelings of loneliness or disappointment. We may even be consciously thinking, “A glass of wine will make me feel better,” or “having a piece of cake will cheer me up.”
The problem with buffering is twofold:
once that cake is gone, the feeling will still be there.
Furthermore, this pattern will create only more negative emotion when your clothes fit a bit more snugly or the mirror reminds you that you aren’t happy with your body.
Buffering only leads to more negative emotion. Naturally, we attempt to buffer that emotion and on and on the cycle goes.
We are not taught as children to take ownership of our feelings. We are not taught to experience negative emotions as a part of life.
As children, we are often asked “Did so-and-so hurt your feelings?” “Let’s make you feel better. How about some ice cream…or a new toy?”
It’s completely acceptable in our society to believe that other people “cause” our feelings and that when we feel badly, we need to “fix it” (typically with external things).
It’s no wonder we have an obesity epidemic in this country and offices filled with people who drink too much, shop too much, or indulge in other unhealthy ways.
I support my clients to develop habits of acknowledging and fully allowing negative emotions. Had a “bad day” at the office? How about owning it and recognizing that you feel disappointed and frustrated and just experiencing those emotions?
When your life offers you the “bad” part of the 50/50, just take it and experience it.
Rather than drinking too much wine or eating too much cake and paying for that tomorrow or later on the scale, we work to recognize the yin and yang and life and allow ourselves to experience the darker side of life.
Negative feelings are like your childhood boogey man.
In the dark they seem so threatening and we are paralyzed with fear. We just want them to go away! But when we flip on the light switch we can see that it was just a coat rack and there is nothing to be afraid of.
Similarly, when we run and hide from negative emotions through buffering, they will always seem scary, like something we should avoid and cover up. When we can shine the light on our negative emotions and allow them to pass through us, they quickly fade.
By continuing to allow yourself to experience negative emotions, you no longer have to buffer. The fear of those emotions diminishes.
Imagine what you could do with your life if you were never afraid to experience fear, loneliness, sadness, inadequately, or guilt? How freeing that must be.
Are you buffering negative emotions with food, alcohol, shopping, etc.?
How would your life be different if you were able to eliminate over-drinking, over-eating or over-shopping?
What negative emotion are you covering up? Let’s find out. You might be surprised.