Three Ways Not to Handle Emotions

People go to ridiculous lengths to suppress uncomfortable feelings – alcohol, smoking, drugs, gambling, overeating etc. These can work in the short-term, but are they wise?

Obviously there is nothing wrong with enjoying an occasional drink and so on, but if these tactics are used to mask or suppress painful emotions, you could be storing up trouble for yourself. Why? Because suppressed emotions often surface in other ways:

  • Lack of energy and motivation
  • Stress-related symptoms and illnesses, including violent behaviour or bad temper
  • Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, phobias of one sort or another, etc.
  • Relationship difficulties
  • In extreme cases, physical problems such as asthma, eczema, cancer or arthritis. There is plenty of well documented scientific research to validate this. Medical opinion is rapidly shifting to the view that many debilitating illnesses have emotional causes.

Here are three ways of handling uncomfortable emotions which at best reduce your enjoyment of life and at worst can be self-destructive:

  1. Avoidance

Avoidance means staying away from situations that you fear would make you uncomfortable, for instance:

  • Finding excuses for not going to a party if you’re shy.
  • Steering clear of intimate relationships.
  • Refusing to go for a promotion if you lack confidence (even if you’re capable of doing the job).
  • Dressing unimaginatively to avoid drawing attention to yourself.

Yes, avoidance dulls the current pain – but it also robs you of opportunities to experience the emotions you do want – fun, friendship, love, adventure, achievement, and so on. It also reinforces low self-esteem and can bring loneliness and frustration.

Ultimately, you can’t avoid feeling something. Fortunately, there’s a much better way – understanding your emotions so you can deal with life more effectively. If you want a fresh outcome, you must try a different approach. Even if it goes wrong, you’ve learned something valuable for the future.

  1. Denial

Denial is disassociating from your feelings. You tell yourself and others, ‘It doesn’t feel that bad’. But it does.

Denying an emotion is dangerous. Unless you deal with the root cause, you merely create more and more discomfort. An ignored emotion does not go away. It simply increases in intensity until you are compelled to pay attention, for instance, your partner walks out on you, you lose your job or a serious illness forces you to change.

If you use avoidance tactics, or are often tempted to do so, ask yourself:

  • Am I perceiving thing correctly?
  • What exactly am I trying to avoid?
  • Is the threat real or imagined?
  • What could I do to handle this better?
  • What could I learn from this that would help me?
  • Is there a better way of communicating my needs and wants to others?

Learning from your emotions is the crux of emotional intelligence, but some never learn. Just think: if the oil warning light on the dashboard of your car started flickering, would you pretend you hadn’t seen it or smash the bulb with a hammer? Of course not! You’d check the oil level. Otherwise you could be storing up trouble for yourself.

You can’t run away from emotions – if you think you can, you’re deluding yourself.

  1. Self-indulgence

Some people wallow in their emotions. They pride themselves on feeling worse off than everyone else. ‘You think you’ve got problems. Wait until you hear about mine!’

There are a number of possible reasons for this, but usually it’s an attempt to attract attention and sympathy or to manipulate others by attempting to place blame or make them feel indebted.

Emotional self-indulgence often backfires because the perpetrator can end up with an investment in feeling bad. It then becomes a rapidly descending spiral. Nor would you want to allow your emotional programming to ruin your life, when your emotions could be such a rich source of energy, purpose and enjoyment.

The secret is to treat every emotion as an opportunity for growth and learn from them. When you do this, the terms ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ emotions become irrelevant since you understand that all emotions are there for your benefit.

Emotionally intelligent means knowing what emotions you and others have, how strong they are, and what causes them. It’s about being honest about your feelings, asking for what you want and above all learning to express yourself from the heart.


©David Lawrence Preston, 4.7.2016

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