There will be bad days.
One of the drawbacks of living in a society where everyone is so interconnected and everyone’s lives are constantly on display, is that it blurs the lines of reality.
If a Martian were to observe our society solely through the lens of Instagram or Facebook, they would believe that all humans are incredibly beautiful, happy, and blessed. They would believe that on our planet, we have wide variety of products that we can buy to solve all of our problems: products that will make our bodies beautiful and thin, our bank accounts fat, and our love life abundant.
Not only do these outlets influence our beliefs about ourselves but they perpetuate the belief that we should be happy all the time. If we are not happy all the time, we are out of the norm. Think about it — anytime we see someone who is visibly sad, our question to them is invariably:
As if being unhappy in any moment means that something is wrong with you. Something must be fixed. In fact, you can probably throw some money at that unhappiness and “fix” it.
When we buy into the notion that we are supposed to be happy all the time, we freak out anytime we are not happy. We don’t know what to do with those emotions so we avoid them, we resist them, or we react to them. We get into a mad scramble to get rid of them ASAP.
For some people, negative emotions means that someone has done something to them. Someone else is to blame. They lash out with anger and defensiveness which seem much more productive and valid than feeling guilt or shame. Instead of recognizing their role in anything and feeling shame, they reject that emotion. They reject the idea that they are faulty and lash out at those around them. They react to the negative emotions in a way that creates more negative ripples in their life.
They REACT to and RESIST negative emotion and in turn just amplify their problems.
Others spend most of their time avoiding the negative emotions. They reach for anything they can to self soothe and dull the emotion. Bad day at work? Feeling like a failure? Go for that extra glass of wine and a piece of chocolate cake. You deserve it. You’ve had a bad day.
They AVOID negative emotions and bury them in substances or actions that generate dopamine. This eventually creates more problems (excess weight, overdrinking, overspending etc.)
We’ve all been guilty of an impulse splurge.
But what is really at work is our desire to NOT feel those negative emotions of shame, self-doubt, or fear.
Instead of experiencing them, we bury them in dopamine hits from sugar, alcohol, shopping, sex, whatever. Or we throw the negative back at those around us — they are the problem, not us.
This approach only works for brief periods of time. Like a boomerang or a beachball held under water, eventually both will gain force and resurface even stronger.
Once we are done with our little excursion of avoidance, those emotions are right there waiting for us.
Only now they are stronger because we have over-consumed, gained weight, feel hungover, made poor decisions, etc. and we have to face those consequences ON TOP of the negative emotions we were trying to avoid.
Around and around we go ultimately only increasing our negative experience through out acts of avoidance, resistance and reaction.
I recently had a free mini-session with a client who believed she was “fine”. No problems, no negative emotions to deal with. Every time we identified a negative thought and tried to discuss the associated emotion, she would immediately shift and offer the other pretty thoughts she was thinking instead. She immediately shifted to positivity any time a negative emotion came up:
I’m not always thinking I’m a horrible person and a failure, it just pops into my mind sometimes. I really think I’m a pretty good person.
Then, two weeks after our first session she had a complete burnt out meltdown. She fell into a black hole and eventually had to take time off work to regroup.
She had spent so much of her energy ignoring all her nagging, self-judging thoughts and suppressing the associated emotions, that eventually it blew up in her face.
It is not sustainable to paint over the ugly parts of our feelings and just pretend like they are not there.
Now my work with her focuses on examining those negative emotions and thoughts and truly processing them rather than resisting them.
The point is that our lives are supposed to be an equal balance of positive and negative. Good emotions and bad emotions.
We know we are happy because we have experienced the emotion of sad. We know we are excited because we understand how it feels to dread something.
If we don’t open ourselves up to experiencing the negative, we can’t ever truly understand and appreciate the positive.
When we convince ourselves that we are supposed to be happy 100% of the time, we set ourselves up for failure. We set ourselves up to avoid, react to, or resist our negative emotions to “fix” them. In the end, all of those approaches only serve to make us more miserable! None of them resolve anything. They simply magnify the misery in the long run.
What I offer as a solution is to simply co-exist with negative emotions and understand that they are a part of the human experience.
Be open to experiencing all that is available to us in this life — the good and the bad.
If we can stop freaking out every time we have a negative emotion and we can simply experience it, it will diminish in power and eventually will pass. We can adjust our thinking to stop spinning in toxic thoughts.
Fully experiencing the bad days is so much more productive and easier than patching up the relationships we destroy when we react with blame and anger or losing the 15 pounds we gain when we avoid emotions through food or other outlets.
Recognize how you are handing your negative emotions and ask yourself: What is the worst that could happen if I just experienced this disappointment right now?
After all, it’s just a vibration in your body.
Whenever you catch yourself reaching for the chocolate cake or buying needlessly on Amazon, examine your predominant thought and emotion. Are you trying to make yourself “feel better”? How is that working out for your waistline and your bank account? What is you just experienced the emotion and journal about it instead of eating or shopping?
I spend a significant amount of my time supporting my clients to process their negative emotions and examine the impact their choices to resist/react/avoid are having on their lives and I challenge you to do the same.
The process isn’t hard, it’s what you discover once you start doing the work that might surprise you.