Frustration, disappointment, anger, jealousy, grief, despair, vengeance, guilt, fear and other negative emotions are all part of the human experience. Dark emotions aren’t merely the occasional pang of short-lived anger you feel when a person cuts in front of you at check-out. Dark emotions represent deep-rooted negative feelings that cause mental stress or emotional breakdowns . They can’t easily be brushed off. They need to be addressed, experienced and managed. However, we frequently attempt to bottle them up, often leading to more challenging issues down the road.
Managing negative emotions is complex. While trying not to let the emotions overwhelm you or destroy your mental health, you have to learn how to cope with them, embracing the fact that you feel them and accepting their significance in your life.
According to clinical psychologist and public speaker, Beth Kurland, bottling up dark emotions could inadvertently lead to depression and anxiety over the minor and unrelated issues later on .
“When I was 15, my mother died in a car accident. Not knowing how to deal with the enormity of my loss and grief, I threw myself into homework and activities, never missing a day of school and trying to control everything in my life,” Kurland wrote.
“This strategy succeeded in some ways — I was able to get good grades, for example. But the inner cost of pushing away my grief and sadness showed up in other ways. I became anxious around things I couldn’t control, like unexpected changes of plans and minor injuries.”
Facing a problem reduces its intensity
Kurland explains that we are less likely to be dragged deeper into our problems if we accept their existence and resolve to face them square on.
“Research suggests that when we turn toward our cravings, we’re less Trusted Source to engage in addictive behaviors. When we turn toward our physical pain, we’re less likely to be trapped in cycles of chronic pain. When we turn toward our sadness, we’re less likely to be stuck in depression. And, when we turn toward our anxiety, we’re less likely to be paralyzed by it and can find it easier to bear,” Kurland wrote.
A 2018 study of 1,300 volunteers conducted by psychologists at the University of Toronto reports that people who try to resist negative emotions are more likely to suffer mood disorders later . According to the paper, acceptance enables us to resist reacting to negative problems and prevent exacerbating the situation.
Kurland explains that turning toward our pain is a better solution to coping than bottling them up. It may seem easier to brush off your distress at first since humans are programmed to avoid unpleasant emotions. However, sooner or later, these feelings would resurface and become a lot harder to deal with.
Dealing with your pain: The Door
To help her patients in learning to embrace their difficult emotions, Kurland came up with a concept she calls “The Door”, a mental tool that involves practicing mindful attention, self-compassion, and acceptance. A person who wants to manage their emotions must start with at the lowest level, dealing first with the least intense emotions and working their way up to the extreme ones.
Step 1: Be willing to open the door
The first step to learning to cope with your emotions is to let them in. You can’t deal with them from a safe mental distance. You have them to bring these feelings into your reality and current state of mind, accepting that they are there and you can feel them.
“Often, people will picture their emotions as having some kind of color, shape, or form. Sometimes they envision their emotions as cartoon characters or as younger parts of themselves. Part of the practice is simply to accept whatever arrives,” Kurland wrote.
No one would relish the thought of letting their anger, anxiety and other deeply toxic feelings rise to the surface, but that’s the only way you can take a closer look at the situation.
Step 2: Examine what walks through the door
The next phase is to mindfully observe your mind and body’s reaction to each emotion your encounter. Place names to these feelings and let them come alive. Jealousy stings, anger burns, anxiety causes jitters and disappointment to weigh your body down. Understand how each of these emotions makes you feel.
This is a critical stage because the moment we address these feelings by names and identify their effects on us, we validate them and there’s no going back. However, observing them would help to tone down their intensity and reduce the negative effects they exert on our minds. We have a better chance of achieving this if we approach this stage with curiosity rather than fright.
“It can also be beneficial to see our emotional ‘visitors’ as temporary guests. Adding the phrase ‘in this moment’ to a statement like ‘I am feeling stress, anger, or hurt’ can help us be with what is there without feeling overwhelmed,” Kurland wrote.
Step 3: Accept your reality and be compassionate to yourself
All your efforts would mean very little if you don’t cut yourself some slack in the end. You can’t stay angry, afraid, guilty or jealous forever. Self-compassion is an effective solution to canceling out dark feelings. There’s no room for negativity in a mind determined to flood the soul with compassionate thoughts and positive emotions. At this stage, you’re ready to tell yourself that you’ve had enough and you deserve a better quality of life.
“To practice self-compassion, imagine sitting with a good friend who is suffering and think about how you might extend a gesture of compassion. What would your body language be like? How might you listen? What sensations would you feel around your heart? Now picture that person extending compassion towards you. What might they say or do? What words would you find comforting or soothing?”
We receive a tremendous amount of healing and relief when we resolve to be kind to ourselves.
Embracing our dark emotions is not a one-time event. It takes courage and practice, but if we’re determined to open the door and accept the existence of our emotions, we are more likely to find the peace and freedom we deserve.
- Elaine Mead. What are Negative Emotions and How to Control Them? Positive Psychology. https://positivepsychology.com/negative-emotions/. Retrieved 07-01-2020
- Beth Kurland. What Happens When You Embrace Dark Emotions. Health Line. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/embracing-dark-emotions#5. Retrieved 07-01-2020
- Ford et al. The psychological health benefits of accepting negative emotions and thoughts: Laboratory, diary, and longitudinal evidence. Pub Med.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28703602. Retrieved 07-01-2020
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