Pushing Away Negative Emotions

Why it can harm you in the long run

Emotions are like a rollercoaster; sometimes they bring us up and sometimes they bring us down. When we experience positive emotions it makes us feel good, and when we experience negative emotions it makes us feel bad. Often when we experience negative emotions, such as sadness, fear, or anger, our instinct is to try to push them away. But what are the consequences of pushing away unpleasant feelings?

The Benefits of Feeling Bad

In his article “Sit with Negative Emotions, Don’t Push Them Away” in The Atlantic, Arthur C. Brooks explains the purpose of negative emotions. First, they help keep us safe. He explains that they are there as a response to environmental stimuli and can be helpful in a “fight or flight” situation. Second, there is evidence that negative emotions have cognitive benefits. They help us decipher social situations and help us better assess reality. We might feel a negative emotion when something happens, but we learn from our mistakes and change our outlook or actions. Finally, experiencing negative emotions aids in building resiliency and strength when faced with a stressful situation.

The Harm of Ignoring Negative Emotions

If negative emotions are beneficial, why do we try to suppress them? The most obvious answer is that we don’t like uncomfortable or unpleasant emotions, so we push them away to make ourselves feel better. Another explanation is social conditioning: we have been taught that feeling bad is bad and feeling good is good. But, as Lucy E. Cousins from HCF illustrates, suppressing negative emotions can actually lead to harmful physical symptoms, such as elevated blood pressure, and can lead to aggression, anxiety, and depression. Ironically, ignoring negative emotions can often make them worse.

Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault from the website VeryWellMind brings up an example from a 1987 study in her article “Suppressing Emotions and Borderline Personality Disorder.” The study looked at two groups of people: one group was told not to think of a white bear and the other was given permission to think about anything they wanted. The group that was told not to think of the white bear actually experienced more thoughts about the white bear than the other group. This is called the “rebound effect of thought suppression,” which means that when you try not to think about something, you end up thinking about it even more. The same can be applied to negative emotions: the more you push them away and try not to think about them, the more they will preoccupy your thoughts and cause more stress and anxiety.

How to Deal with Negative Emotions

So, how should we deal with negative emotions? They are a normal part of life! Overall, it is best to acknowledge the emotions you are experiencing, try to understand why they are there, accept them, and come up with a plan to manage your emotions and care for yourself.

Acknowledging how you feel gives you a sense of control over your emotions. By trying to understand what you are feeling, you are getting to know yourself and how you can react to things better, which will in turn aid in the management of your emotions. Accepting your emotions gives them less power over you and gives you more control over your actions. Finally, practicing self-care and learning how to manage your emotions can help reduce anxiety and help you have a healthy relationship with your feelings.

– Gabrielle Lesage

From Share&Care Summer 2022

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