It's common for us to label unpleasant emotions like anger, regret, sadness, etc., as negative or bad. However, ‘bad’ emotions don't exist, and labeling them as such implies that we shouldn't feel them. This belief has led many of us to dismiss, deflect, or suppress these unpleasant emotions, because we may feel wrong for experiencing them.
Regardless of how unpleasant these emotions make us feel, we must acknowledge them, and see them for what they are, data. Emotions are like traffic signs; they are meant to alert, warn, and inform. If we choose to ignore them—just like dismissing a stop sign—we are at risk of creating negative consequences that affect us and others.
It does not help that historically society has conditioned us to be ashamed of acknowledging certain emotions. For fear of seeing ourselves or others as terrible, heartless, weak, or erratic individuals, we may resort to denying our feelings or pinning the blame on something or someone else for ‘making’ us feel or react undesirably.
Ironically, emotional outbursts, erratic behavior, and treating others poorly are byproducts of ignoring our emotions.
If we were to see someone overreacting, name-calling, and screaming at someone behind a counter because they received a small fry when they asked for a large fry, the thought might cross our minds, “this person is ‘crazy.’ What a miserable and terrible person!” However, this person’s reaction has nothing to do with not getting the right size fry and everything to do with them not effectively handling their unpleasant emotions—that have likely been building up for some time—and are now being released on this restaurant employee.
A common misconception is that we can avoid confronting unpleasant feelings if we deny or suppress them. However, emotions carry energy—proven science, not philosophy. If we fail to release that energy in a healthy way through exercise, mindfulness, breathwork, etc., they will find another way to express themselves. Hence emotional outbursts, violence, or physical illness due to suppressed chronic stress.
Additionally, if we choose to deny responsibility for our emotional reactions or emotionally induced illnesses—physical or mental—we unconsciously develop a victim mentality. This mentality is highly dangerous and problematic as it leads to the justification of wrongdoings or feelings of desperation and hopelessness. All of which prevent us from acting and working to solve our problems.
An important lesson to take away is this: You shouldn't feel guilty or wrong for feeling any emotion if you acknowledge and address the feeling effectively. Please note that feeling and reacting to emotions are very different. Feeling emotions does not cause harm if managed appropriately. Harm is caused when we impulsively react to our strong emotions.
Take a moment and think of a time or times when you felt guilty or upset for feeling an unpleasant emotion.
What was the emotion?
Do you remember the situation or thoughts about that emotion?
How did you manage the emotion?
Did you suppress it, reject it, transfer it to someone else, react impulsively, or handle it effectively?
If you didn’t handle it effectively? What might you do next time?
As we develop our emotional intelligence, we become more comfortable acknowledging, observing, and managing our unpleasant emotions because we realize they are not part of our identity. This shift in mindset encourages us to approach others with more compassion and understanding when they are coming at us with their strong emotions.
Just as our emotions are not who we are, their emotions are not who they are but what they are experiencing.