See the funny thing about emotional 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 general feeling of ‘meh’ that you think it’s part of life. It’s an accepted norm, anything in contrast a bonus.
The personal development industry is a whopping $10 billion. A simple scroll through Instagram shows up coach after quote on ways to ‘improve’ yourself and your life. And at the helm of it all is Tony Robbins. Apparently he can save a marriage in 8 minutes. ‘Take Action’, ‘Trust the Universe’, ‘Where Attention Goes, Energy Flows’, and on and on and on. Now I’m not disputing the fact that he’s great, he works with the most successful people on the planet. 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 this stuff to sink in.
Positive thinking is all good and well if you have a solid base to start from. It’s a bit like having a cut on your foot (stay with me). The sooner you disinfect it the better. Clear it out, clean it up, and viola in no time it’s back to normal. 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 everyday we put back on our socks, then shoes and off we go into the world. Except today it rained and my socks got soaked. Muddy water gushing round my foot, pouring into that open wound. It stings like hell, the infection spreads. And when infection is rife 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 some positive thinking, some yoga, a mild meditation. A sound bath, a detox, 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 your best life. Our instinct when we’re faced with a negative thought or experience is to push it away, justify it or 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 shape or form) plastering them over with a ‘positive mental attitude’ is a quick and temporary fix. It can prop you up for a little while but sooner or later that infection has to come out. And honestly the only way up is in. Continually dismissing your negative feelings for something more positive, more bearable, does nothing more than invalidate you. You’re 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.
- Once you name it try to figure out what prompted it. Did something happen? Did 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.
- 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 name it. Once you identify it, honor 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
- Trust that you will choose the appropriate response. Listen to your internal compass, your intuition knows best.