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Negative Emotions Aren’t All That Bad

In my years as a clinician, not one client has come into my office and said “I want to feel worse, can you help me with that?” Of course, that would seem absurd to anyone. As humans, we strive to do whatever we can to feel “better” and to avoid any sort of discomfort. 

It’s not possible to feel good all the time. If we did, we probably wouldn’t even appreciate happiness. In our social media-absorbed society, we see people living wonderful lives, vacationing, and presenting a picture-perfect existence. As adults, we know this is not normal. We “buy in” to this image because that’s how we wish to feel. Advertisers and marketing folks sell us an image of how our lives can be improved by purchasing a product or service and people naturally find this “better life” or version of themselves appealing.  

Ultimately, sadness, anger, frustration, worry, and disappointment are all normal emotions that we will feel in response to various circumstances. If these are the only emotions we feel, it becomes problematic. Trying to never experience negative feelings, can also become an issue. 

It’s important to teach kids (and ourselves) that these feelings are part of the human experience. Sometimes, when we experience them, we can erroneously believe that they will never go away, which is scary. 

Here are some thoughts on managing difficult emotions:

Allow yourself time to feel the emotions: Emotions don’t like to be ignored; they need to be acknowledged and validated. When we suppress our emotions, they can return later with more intensity and duration. Like waves on the ocean, negative feelings come and go. Sometimes setting a timer and letting yourself be sad, scream, cry, or just feel the feelings can be enough for them to dissipate. 

Ask yourself “why” you are feeling the emotion: Is the emotion “telling” you something? Check-in with yourself and determine what needs are not being met. What message is the emotion telling you? 

Spend time looking for the joy: Joy becomes more noticeable through comparison and interpretation. Our brains naturally can look for negativity as a way to protect ourselves. Create a daily “what went well” practice or gratitude practice. This can shift your thought process to appreciate more what is going well. 

Teach kids to tolerate the negative feelings: As a parent, it can be instinctual to do anything we can to “cheer up” our children or “make it better,” but this does not always serve them in the long run. Unfortunately, this can lead to negative coping tools as an adult. Allow your kids to be sad, angry, or disappointed for a period of time in a productive, safe way. Validate their feelings with statements like, “I get it, this is hard,” or “It’s normal to be upset by this,” and let them experience the emotions. Kids will then learn that the emotions and sensations are not as scary or awful as they may seem. 

Teach kids about “compare and despair”: It’s normal for us to compare ourselves to others. “So-and-so’s mom lets her have juice and fruit snacks AND chips for lunch! Why can’t I have that?!” There will always be things that we wish for or desire. Help your kids recognize when they are comparing and work with them to understand ways to appreciate the things they do have, rather than focus on what they don’t. 

Emotions are there to send us a message and help us to recognize what is happening at that moment. If you can learn to tune into emotions, acknowledge them, and then determine how to respond, you will gain more self-control and self-awareness. 

“There can be no transforming of darkness into light and of apathy into movement without emotion.” – Carl Gustav Jung


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