There is a desire in each of us to avoid what's unpleasant. I venture to say nat none of us gets up in the morning with the aim of finding all the bad stuff in the world. We don't have to, for it has a way of finding us. But having some unpleasantness in life is part of being alive. But avoiding unpleasant emotions—rather than accepting them—only increases our psychological distress, inflexibility, anxiety, and depression, diminishing our well-being. "New research suggests that when we turn toward our cravings we are actually less likely to engage in addictive behaviors; when we turn toward our physical pain, we are less likely to be trapped in cycles of chronic pain; when we turn toward our sadness, we are less likely to be stuck in depression; and when we turn toward our anxiety, we are less likely to be paralyzed by it and can find it easier to bear," says Dr. Beth Kurland in her new book, Dancing on the Tightrope. Learning to embrace these dark emotions, facing the unpleasantness in our lives, can bring not only a significant reduction in our anxiety but also give us the ability to experience the joys of life more fully. Facing our darker side allows us to grow in our ability to trust that we can handle life's challenges.
If we want to live more fully and be our most authentic selves, we need to turn towards our pain, not try to suppress it. But what can help us get there? Experts say that mindful awareness, self-compassion, and acceptance are the keys.
1. Develop a willingness to open the door. "Imagine that you are opening the door and welcoming your emotions in, to come and have a seat somewhere in the room. You can picture this seat as close to or as far away from you as you like. From this perspective, you can take a gentle and curious look at what is there. 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." And while no one really wants to let in anger and sadness, when we let it in whatever arrives and look at it from a distance with curiosity, we can explore it and become less fearful of it.
2. Take a curious look at whatever walks through the door. Experts say to be mindful of what walks through the door. Putting a name to it can help; anger, jealousy, fear, sadness, etc. it might sound simplistic, but humans don't always pay close attention to what they are feeling. They just know it doesn't feel good so they tend to just ignore it. When that happens, the unpleasant feeling has a way of growing and taking over their life. It can be beneficial to see these emotions as temporary guests in our home. You can do this by saying, "In this moment I am feeling....."
3. Give yourself the gift of compassion. many of us (humans and frogs too) have been taught to view unpleasant emotions in a negative way; showing sadness or fear is a weakness. We mistakenly believe that if we are angry or jealous we are somehow bad. How often have you told yourself, or maybe someone else to "Buck up" when they're feeling one of these dark emotions? But I can tell you that they are only dark because they've been kept in the closet for far too long! How about instead of "bucking up" you tell yourself that it's okay...maybe even natural...to feel this emotion? Self-compassion has been linked in many recent studies to well-being. Treating ourselves with a little loving-kindness can go a long way toward helping us cope with difficulties we face.
While embracing our darker emotions takes courage and bravery, using "The Door" technique can help each of us open the gift that is waiting on the other side. Each time we practice "being with our darker emotions" we grow in our capacity to face head-on the challenges that each of us will face at some point. We may not think of our dark emotions as being gifts, but learning to accept them is truly a gift that can make our lives more pleasant in the long run.
My weekend was super-fun and I trust that yours was, as well. And even though it's Monday, it's wonderful being back on the job. Please stop by again tomorrow; I have good stuff to share with you all week long! I wish you a great start to your week.