Human beings were designed to experience a wide range of emotions.
Society today however wants us to think we should experience only one… ‘Happiness’
Happiness is a desirable emotion to pursue indeed but it is not our only one.
Some emotions we enjoy feeling, some are confusing and we have trouble identifying them. Others feel so painful and scary to us that we want to climb outside of ourselves to avoid experiencing the pain and weight of them.
It may sound counterintuitive but learning to be ok with feeling bad can teach you how to be a well-rounded human being.
I’m not saying you should go looking for darker emotions such as hopelessness that is scary to you and wallow in it until you get stuck, but I think it is potentially dangerous to not allow yourself to feel your full range of emotion.
There is a heavy price to pay for avoiding all other emotions just to try and look happy from the outside all the time.
The following is based on my own experience and that of the women I work with in my practice.
Unhealthy coping mechanisms
Unhealthy coping mechanisms and repercussions of limiting your emotional range to avoid pain:
- Distracting yourself with alcohol, food, sex, etc. that temporarily dulls the pain but can lead to addiction.
- Avoiding people, places and situations that provide temporary relief but can lead to anxiety.
- You don’t develop empathy.
- Your true feelings come out in indirect and unhealthy ways such as emotional withdrawal, resentment and anger, sarcasm, gossip, bullying etc.
- You create fear around less feel good emotions like sadness, loneliness, anger, hopelessness etc.
- You feel out of control and think something is wrong with you when you find yourself feeling other emotions you aren’t comfortable with.
- You walk around like a Stepford person whose only focus is on pleasantness and is unprepared for the hard work of healthy (and messy) relationships.
- Limit yourself to superficial relationships that lack depth and intimacy.
- Others do not feel safe confiding in you.
Focusing on a single emotion such as ‘happiness’ to avoid feeling emotional pain creates more problems than it prevents.
I really want to experience my emotions fully so I can more fully experience myself. I don’t go looking for dark nights of the soul but when kaka happens and I find myself wading in the depths of sadness, anger, or loneliness I allow myself to experience it.
Even when it feels terrible, even when I’m scared of the way I feel.
By accepting the emotion you really don’t like or want to feel:
- You give yourself a chance to get familiar with it and learn how to manage it.
- You don’t have to spend so much energy and time trying to push it away or run from it.
- You can turn your attention to what is important to you
- You allow it to move through you, run its course.
This month I encourage you to stop focusing so hard on trying to be happy and instead focus on allowing yourself to experience your full range of emotions.
In doing so you become a more well-rounded person, better wife, mother, friend, and healthier members of your community… which leads to happiness, after all, don’t you think?
Please seek support if you find yourself struggling to accept any emotion you may be experiencing.