Contribution from Shobha Nihalani
Last week, we talked about how to overcome perfectionism and the value of just starting something even when you don’t feel fully primed. To overcome perfectionism is to accept that mistakes and failures are a part of the human experience. Indeed, being process-oriented rather than goal-oriented enables us to take small steps and enjoy the journey.
There is another factor about perfectionism we haven’t discussed: how when we have a constant need to perfect an activity, we also have the tendency to want to control the corresponding expectations of ‘right’ feelings. This week, the fourth and final edition of ‘Turn Critical To Compassionate’, we will dive into the value of the ‘wrong’ emotions: the negative ones.
Why suppressing negativity doesn’t work
We pursue goals and decisions with the hope that they will lead to success and happiness. At times, when the response to an outcome is disappointment, regret, or even anger, we struggle with these emotions and wish that we didn’t have to experience them. When we interpret our emotional pain as something to be controlled, we create more suffering.
For many, the marker for success in life is not wealth, but happiness. There is no shortage of experts who offer many optimum ways to develop a positive attitude and be happy with ourselves. Studies show how having a positive state of mind also ensures a healthy body.
But here lies the problem: when a negative thought or feeling creeps into our minds, we tend to quickly drown it out with an affirmation, a smile, and a ‘Oh no, I should not be feeling this way,’ statement. When we repeat ‘I am courageous and confident,’ it doesn’t necessarily alleviate the feelings of fear and anxiety. Research shows that repeating positive self-statements may benefit some people, but can have a detrimental effect on those who struggle with self-doubt and low self-esteem.
The taboo towards negativity in mindfulness culture
There is an unspoken trend that if we feel sad or disappointed or upset or angry, we have to attack those feelings and turn them around. We are told how we are supposed to feel. Experiencing a negative emotion is considered a weakness. It is almost taboo to reveal that you are harbouring negative feelings because people will judge you, and tell you to change. There’s so much pressure to feel good all the time.
When we avoid the feelings, what we are essentially doing is suppressing the negative, and allowing a bubbling lava of emotions to collect under the surface. This is counterproductive to our mental health.
Negative emotions signal work to be done
Is it okay to experience negative emotions? Absolutely. We cannot fragment parts of our undesirable selves just because they don’t work for us. We are a sum total of all our experiences, including the bad ones. Personal growth often comes from emotional pain. For example, when we feel guilt or regret for being rude to someone, we will learn to behave differently in future. Psychotherapists mention that when emotional pain is pushed away or unresolved, it grows and reveals itself in self-destructive ways.
Feelings come and go, they are ephemeral, they are like the tides. The best way is to observe them, not judge them. Therapists have shared countless studies on our emotions and how they affect us. It is true that it is unhealthy to ruminate and languish in a negative state of mind, however, the range of feelings, pleasant and unpleasant, are a natural part of life too. They teach us how to navigate through life experiences. When we listen to our emotions, we learn a lot about our inner landscape. We cannot just wish emotions away, or proverbially brush them under the carpet. Addressing them is key.
Sometimes emotions make us uncomfortable, and we want to avoid feeling the intensity of them because they hurt deep. We are taught to ‘get over it’ and bounce back to the routine of life. Everyone processes unresolved emotions differently. Everyone on the planet has experienced hurt from certain people or certain situations. At some point in life, you have felt anger, resentment, shame, regret, sadness, despair, or guilt. Some have experienced traumas that linger; many of these emotions are left untreated for years. Facing our emotions is necessary to let go, and to understand ourselves better.
Words have power; use them to identify feelings
All emotions have a purpose. There are moments when we notice the bubbling of them beneath the surface, but feel that words cannot describe those feelings. However, that’s exactly what needs to be done: describe the feelings in words. ‘I am feeling the sensation of terror, it feels like a weight on my chest, my shoulders are heavy…’ This gives you the ability to process them, and slowly as you understand why or what caused the feelings, they lose their grip on you.
Recognising emotional pain helps to release it. How? First, by accepting it exists, and facing it compassionately. No matter how many years pass by, memories can trigger emotions that have been stored, especially the ones that remain unresolved. If we can reframe these memories with compassion and forgiveness, we can look back with a sense of acceptance and allow ourselves to move on. Acceptance with compassion can transform those old feelings into new energy for leading a healthier, more fulfilling life.
If we can accept that life is all about balance, we can embrace the negatives to understand the contrast we experience with the positives.
A practical exercise to address pain
Right now, grab a pen, and write down what you feel internally. For example, choose one word to describe your state of mind. If it is ‘upset,’ what’s making you upset? Is it something someone said? What do you prefer had happened? Don’t be afraid to flow with whatever comes to mind, because the words are a form of clues to help you deal with the issues. Sometimes, just staying in touch with your feelings releases the tension. The next time you experience a feeling you don’t necessarily like, this practice can be a reminder to accept it rather than resist it.
Psychologist and Buddhist Meditation expert, Tara Brach, spoke some profound words about our emotions:
“Pain is not wrong. Reacting to pain as wrong initiates the trance of unworthiness. The moment we believe something is wrong, our world shrinks and we lose ourselves in the effort to combat the pain.” ― Tara Brach, “Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha”
💡 Read more advice from Shobha Nihalani on self-esteem 💡
Shobha Nihalani is a multi-genre author, ghost-writer, and mindset coach. She has been writing for over 25 years. Her recent book on self-esteem – Reboot, Reflect, Revive: Self-Esteem in a Selfie World – has become popular and is recognised for raising awareness on self-esteem.
Shobha believes that the way we communicate with ourselves, and others, has the power to impact our lives. Her expertise as a writing consultant and writer’s coach has given her the opportunity to guide people to acknowledge their own amazing potential to be unique, creative, and resilient in achieving their goals.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of The HK HUB.
Header image credits: axelbueckert via Canva