Sitting with Emotions

I regularly work with clients who are trying to avoid and push away feelings of sadness, anger, loneliness — so-called “negative” emotions. On the one hand, I can entirely relate with this draw and have experienced it myself. However, the more I’ve learned to sit with these emotions, and witnessed others sit with them, the more important and helpful it has proven to be.

Often times in our society we label some or all of these emotions as bad or negative, something to be avoided. This makes sense on some levels as they can be quite uncomfortable to experience. Despite the discomfort they often come with, they also play a very valuable role in our well-being and provide us with extremely important information. In addition, the tendency to avoid them can often worsen our experience of suffering when they arise. Overall, research has demonstrated the importance of these emotions in our lives and the value acceptance versus avoidance can have in our well-being.

In Scientific American’s article, “Negative Emotions are Key to Well-being”, Tori Rodriguez explores this further:

“Anger and sadness are an important part of life, and new research shows that experiencing and accepting such emotions are vital to our mental health. Attempting to suppress thoughts can backfire and even diminish our sense of contentment… Unpleasant feels are just as crucial as the enjoyable ones in helping your make sense of life’s ups and downs.”

He goes on to explain that negative emotions also provide us with important information that aid in our survival. They provide us with indications if we are in danger or if something important to us in our life needs attention. They mirror back to us what we value most and are motivators.

Louis CK, one of my favorite comedians reflects on the importance of experiencing sadness, and ultimately the beauty of embracing it in this more alternative clip here:

  To practice sitting with your emotions and to implement acceptance versus avoidance try using mindfulness next time you experience an uncomfortable emotion. Observe and describe to yourself what you are experiencing in that moment. Pay attention and participate by noticing what you are feeling in your body. Try doing this non-judgmentally, without labeling what you are experiencing as bad or good, right or wrong. How does this change your experience of the emotion? How does it impact your perspective on the situation?

– Gina

References

Rodriguez, T. (2013, April 11). Negative Emotions are Key to Well-being. Retrieved from: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/negative-emotions-key-well-being/