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Embracing Negative Emotions

I came across this book called The Pleasure Trap by authors - Douglas. J. Lisle and Alan Gold Hammer. It’s an interesting read about the unique insights into our motivational factors. The authors talk about a triad called the motivational triad that helps explain what drives and has driven human behaviour over centuries. According to them, the triad quite simply is this: as humans we a) seek pleasure, b) avoid pain and c) are driven by energy efficiency. While this may sound a tad simplistic, on a very basic level this triad has helped ensure our survival as a species. Hunger is painful, so we seek food. Eating is pleasurable, as is sex. And the most energy efficient way to get that food the better! It is easy to see how this triad helped us survive. But, does this really serve us anymore? Are we not evolved enough to face and allow discomfort in order to grow?

So my friends, I thought I’d use this week to talk about something bold and deep – The power of embracing negative emotions. Intriguing right? See if you can relate to this.

  • Take a few minutes and think of a time when you had an unpleasant moment - a devastating break-up, getting laid off, failing on that mortgage payment, gaining 50 pounds, dealing with an injury or with a sick family member, fighting with a dear friend, tough moments with children and hitting that age milestone.

  • What emotions came up? Fear, sadness, anger, humiliation, despair, hopelessness, hate

  • How did you respond to them?

  • Did you accept your situation, face the emotions and find the courage to deal with them or instead use a buffer to ignore them? Here are some of the top buffers we sometimes succumb to– binge eating, drinking, partying, drugs, watching hours of mindless television, shopping, or being a workaholic– all this to avoid that feeling of what comes up, the feeling of disappointment, discouragement and shame.

Whatever it is that comes up for you, that's what you want to escape. Think of this - if you're willing to feel those emotions and invite them in, embrace them and if you say bring it on, I'm willing to go through this emotion, and I'm willing to create and try again then you will. What is the worst that can happen – another emotion, and as a human being there is really no emotion that we can't handle.

Here’s a passage from one of my favourite writers - Pema Chodron. She writes - "Feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy and fear, instead of being bad news are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we're holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we'd rather collapse and back away. They are like messengers that show us with terrifying clarity exactly where we're stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher. And lucky for us, it's with us wherever we are. So if we could look at our negative emotions as signals, as indicators of where we still have healing to do and thinking to change. Right? It's where our patterning has not been looked at clearly. Our awareness has been lapsing. Those emotions can remind us to pay attention to reconnect to ourselves. Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognise our shared humanity." Isn’t this incredible?

My friends, change work is really hard. Most of the time, we don’t even recognise that we are using buffers or avoiding emotions and pain. Even though pain is real suffering is optional. If this is new to you and if its hard to deal with emotions by yourself, I would recommend working with a good life coach who can help you deepen your learnings and forward the action. One of the main reasons we keep feelings of shame and negative emotions to ourselves is that we worry what people will say or think. This is why it’s so important to work with a coach who will hold the space. Holding the space means being in a virtual non-judgemental safe space where you can unload your mind and work through issues. It’s a space where thoughts and emotions can be looked at with fascination and curiosity, unraveled and understood so you can grow. Your discussions with a coach will be nothing like the ones you’ve had with friends, colleagues or even family. It’s not about getting advice, or quick fixes. Shifting negative emotions is deep work and if its something you are struggling with I encourage you to find someone who will hold the space while you gently rip off that band-aid. This will be a great step toward self-love and taking care of your self.

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