See the funny thing about mental health is that you sometimes don’t even know something’s amiss. You get so used to the internal nag, the lack of energy, the inability for joy that you just think it’s part of life. You accept it as the norm and you think that anything that contrasts it is a bonus. Think positive thoughts they say.
A simple scroll through Instagram and you see Tony Robbins telling you to TAKE ACTION. Apparently he can save a marriage in 8 minutes. Now I’m not disputing the fact that Tony Robbins has a gift but what I am saying is that there’s a gap that needs bridging to get from where people are to where they need to be in order for Tony’s stuff to sink in. Positive thinking is all good and well if you have a clear base to start from. It’s a bit like having a cut on your foot (stay with me).
The sooner you get to it with the disinfectant the better. Clear it out, clean it up to prevent infection. But some of us don’t like the fuss, we’ve never had anyone fuss over us. We fob it off as nothing short of a scratch. And every day we put back on our socks, then shoes and off we go into the world. Except for today it rained and my socks got soaked. Muddy puddle water gushing around my foot, pouring into that open wound. Infection spreading, it’s tender to touch. And when the infection gets to that point Tony Robbins saying ‘my foot is healthy, my wound is clean’ is about as useful as a bikini in the rain. The gap is just too far to bridge.
And so we try to drum up some positive thoughts
Do some yoga, or a mild meditation, a sound bath, some mindfulness. Mindfulness is all the rage these days. You busy yourself creating scenarios to Instagram so that you can convince yourself that you’re living, when inside your dying bit by bit. Our instinct when we’re faced with a negative thought or experience is to push it away and distract ourselves. You’re angry at your boss (she’s very stressed at the moment), your sister did something to piss you off (she goes cray when she doesn’t get her way), you’ve signed up to do a half marathon with the gang (you don’t even like running). We push away and dismiss our real feelings because we don’t want to face the fact that if we speak our truth we might be rejected, abandoned or worst of all unloved. And like the infection, the Savlon just ain’t gonna cut it.
When you’re dealing with underlying emotional wounds (which we all are in some capacity) plastering them over is a quick and temporary fix. It can prop you up for a little while but honestly, the only way up is in and continually dismissing your negative feelings in favor of something more acceptable, more positive does nothing more than invalidating you. Your feelings are real, your feelings are worthy, your feelings are you and every time you dismiss them you cut off a little piece of you. Listen to your feelings and let them guide you. Those negative ones are telling you something too. In fact the negative ones are warning signals from your conscience that signal when something isn’t quite right. Emotions like frustration, annoyance and apprehension are early warning signs – leave them alone long enough and you may experience rage, loathing, anxiety or depression.
What do I do when I feel a negative emotion bubbling from within?
- Know that it’s ok. It’s normal, it’s human. Just knowing this can relieve some of the unease linked to these emotions. Negative emotions act as an internal compass of sorts demanding attention when our life path strays from what we crave deep within. In essence, they are warning signals that something isn’t right, that you need to take a look at.
- Look inward. Carve out some space for yourself to be with yourself and try to figure out what’s going on. Try to identify what is it your feeling? Is it anger, sadness, hurt – whatever it is named it. Once you identify it, honour it.
- Accept it for what it is. If you’re feeling embarrassed, let it be. Act with self-compassion and the feeling will pass more quickly than if you resist it.
- Once you name it to try to figure out what prompted it. Did something happen? Someone say something to you? Did it feel familiar? Slowly but surely with practice, we’ll start to identify patterns in behaviour and in reactions that can lead us to a deep source of unease.
- Trust that you will choose the appropriate response. Listen to your internal compass, your intuition knows best.