Emotions. We all have them, even if we pretend not to. Seriously though, we are all emotional creatures. Some people definitely feel and process emotions more deeply (don’t believe me? click here for the research), but for a certainty we all have to process our feelings. Our emotions are part of our humanity. They are part of what makes us each unique individual beings. They make us capable of love, joy, spirituality, and a myriad of other positive experiences. However, there is also a downside to being emotional creatures – specifically: anger, betrayal, depression, anxiety, etc.
We tend to put emotions in to two categories – good and bad. We as a society pour copious amounts of time and money into preventing “bad” feelings through pharmaceuticals, therapy, and denial. However, these negative emotions are a completely normal reaction to life. Life is tough. There are times when life completely sucks! And you know what? Negative emotions are an APPROPRIATE response to those times.
Now I’m not a mental health professional, and I am not denying the effectiveness or necessity of medications for severe emotional “disorders.” Hell, I think a majority of us need to get into the habit of visiting a psychiatrist/psychologist annually for a “mental health check up.” I do think that when you feel so bad for so long that you are unable to live your life or function on a day-to-day basis, medication may be necessary. What I am saying is that we’re too quick to think we’ve reached this point.
Today we live in a world based on results. We want things that make us happy, and we want them now. Our society is dependent on instant gratification. But instant results do not normally fix the underlying problem.
We are too quick to reach for a pill when we feel tired, anxious, depressed, or unable to sleep. We are too keen on finding a diagnosis for why we’re not happy with our choices, so that we can have a reason why we keep making those choices. However, these things do not fix the underlying problem, they simply hide it.
How many people on antidepressants are completely cured by taking their medication for a set amount of time? How many eating disorder sufferers are able to return to viewing food and their bodies in a healthy manner after a stay in a treatment facility? Now I am sure there are examples of all these things. Unfortunately, the majority of my experience has been the opposite. Masking the feelings provides temporary relief from an overwhelming problem. Yes, it helps you get by day-to-day, but it does not force you to face the problem.
You have to face your emotions in order to improve them.
Yes, you have to sit with your feelings. You have to take the time to feel them. You have to get to know them. Negative emotions can feel like you’ve been locked in a cell with someone you loathe, and who hates you right back. But you have to sit with them in that cell and get to know what they are before you will ever escape from them. You have to figure out where they come from, what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it. It will suck. Yes, it is the most miserable thing you will ever experience, and I do suggest you do your sitting with your emotions in the presence of a mental health professional – because shit will get real, and it will do so extremely fast.
When I was going through a period of emotional turmoil, the best advice I got was to acknowledge what I was feeling, realize that those feelings were trying to help me cope with something, and to be gentle with them. YOUR EMOTIONS ARE NOT YOU. You are still the same person regardless of whether you’re happy, sad, anxious, depressed, or excited. (That’s why you can feel more than one emotion at once.) If you view these emotions as separate from you, they are not nearly as threatening.
Additionally, you have to realize that these negative emotions are not trying to hurt you. They’re actually trying to help you, they just aren’t doing a very good job of it. Once you realize that your emotions are reactions to an experience, you can figure out the cause of these emotions. Once you discover the cause, you now have the power to do something about it. Yes, you’ll probably need help with all of these steps, but you can get there. You just can’t reach for a band-aid when you need stitches. Work on what’s causing the emotions, not on their effects.