This is the age of positive psychology, where many people seem to believe that ‘thinking positive’ is enough to keep us happy and healthy. Although there are many documented benefits of having a positive attitude, there are also many benefits to not repressing your emotions.
In fact, those who repress their emotions have been shown to be more violent and aggressive, and according to some studies, repressing the way you feel may even increase your risk of cancer and knock years off your life.
So, how can we navigate these two important ideas for mental health? How can we remain positive without repressing our negative emotions?
When negative feelings emerge, acknowledge them!
If you’ve ever gone on a diet and tried to use the ‘willpower’ method to suppress hunger cues, you probably know that it doesn’t work! Maybe you can ignore them for five minutes, but they always pop up again.
Negative emotions are no different.
So instead of swallowing and blinking back your tears, or telling yourself to ‘think positive and move on,’ acknowledge your negative feelings that come up. Whether it’s anger, sadness, sorrow, anxiety, frustration, annoyance, jealousy, or any other feeling, name them as you feel them, understanding that it’s totally normal to feel this way—everyone feels bad sometimes—and that all feelings are impermanent.
Take a few breaths, just noticing the emotion.
Although ‘witnessing’ your emotions like this will often allow the emotion to pass, if, after a few moments, you still feel like crying or expressing your emotion in another way, do so! Let out your tears, call your friend to vent, write in your journal, bring up how you feel to the person who hurt you, or do whatever you need. Just make sure you take a few seconds beforehand to acknowledge and understand what you are feeling.
After the feeling passes, be positive again! Don’t beat yourself up or apologize to anyone for having the feelings you experienced. Instead, switch your self-talk back to positive, empowering, and loving statements.
Here’s an (extreme) example of what we’re talking about.
Let’s say your spouse leaves you. How do you feel? Most likely absolutely awful. In this situation, if you try to convince yourself to be happy, all you are doing is repressing the totally legitimate and real emotions you have, which is only going to stress you out and frustrate you. The negativity will always come up again if you don’t process it, and the longer your repress it, the more shocking and difficult it can be to deal with.
What you can do instead is practice a positive affirmation that doesn’t detract from or negate what you’re truly feeling. So, if your spouse left you, telling yourself an empowering statement like ‘I am worthy of love,’ or ‘I am already whole,’ would be a healthy way to ‘think positive’ in the situation.
Let’s face it, it often seems easier to repress things than deal with them, but don’t fall into this harmful habit! The next time you feel something, focus on acknowledging and processing it as it is, without trying to make yourself feel the way you think you should.
Notice a difference?
-The Alternative Daily