When you have feelings you consider “bad”, do you try to avoid them? Instead of sinking into negative emotions, you talk yourself out of feeling that way.
When I distract myself from feelings of sadness or anger, it only seems to prolong them. I’ve learned instead to sink into the feelings without judgment.
As a result, they become more manageable and dissipate more quickly. Similar to exposure therapy, scary feelings shrink in your imagination when you face them.
When you acknowledge and accept negative emotions instead of judging them, they lose their power. You may find yourself moving through them more quickly and entering a state of gratitude.
Your mood lifts naturally after you’ve processed the negative emotions. You pay attention to what they have to teach you and might make changes accordingly.
Here are 4 steps to processing negative emotions.
1. Sink into your feelings.
Rather than running away from your emotions, feel them. When we feel “bad”, we tend to rationalize our feelings or shame ourselves for feeling them.
Rationalizing looks like: “it’s not so bad,” “other people have it worse,” or “I’ll get past this soon.” All true in the long run, but not authentic to how you feel in the moment.
We shame ourselves for our feelings instead of offering self-care. When we need comfort we give ourselves a scolding instead. This adds shame on top of what you’re already feeling.
It’s a form of abandonment we’d never inflict on someone else. Imagine a friend coming to you for comfort and you telling them they should feel bad for having those feelings.
2. Ask yourself what you need.
Maybe it’s a warm bath or a journaling session. Maybe it’s a chat with a trusted friend. If you’re like me, you may decide to curl up in the fetal position and cry until you feel better.
Instead of self-censure, give yourself warmth and compassion. Let the feelings flow and take care of yourself as they go through you.
3. Get curious about negative emotions.
What caused the feelings in the first place? Is it something you need to address?
Could it be hormonal fluctuations like PMS? Feelings during those times are still valid. But you may feel them more intensely than at other times.
4. Practice gratitude alongside negative emotions.
I write this with caution because I’m opposed to anything that hints at toxic positivity. But I’ve witnessed myself recover from a low mood in a genuine way after repeating a list of things for which I’m grateful.
This is different than a distraction from your feelings. You stay in acknowledgment of your difficult emotions while also recognizing some good things you’ve got going on.
This gets you away from black and white, all-or-nothing thinking. It brings attention to the fact that two opposing truths can co-exist. I feel sad, depressed, or angry, and I have many blessings worth counting.