Without thinking hard about this, just label the below words as good or bad in your mind.
You probably would have judged the first 5 as bad and the last 3 as good emotions.
It is mostly because of the stories that we believe about emotions.
Stories such as:
- Anger, guilt, shame, fear, sadness, embarrassment, and anxiety are ‘negative’ emotions
- Negative emotions are bad, irrational, and a sign of weakness
- they will damage my health
- Expressing feelings is a sign of weakness
- Men should not feel afraid or cry
- Negative emotions mean there is something wrong with my life
You might believe all of them at some level, or maybe none! It all depends largely on our upbringing.
If you grew up in a family where positive emotions were freely expressed but negative emotions were frowned upon, then it signaled to you that negative emotions must be avoided.
If your family tended to suppress their emotions, then you learned that it’s okay to bottle up your feelings.
If you were frightened by the display of anger from your parents, then your little self decided that anger is bad and should be avoided at all costs. Maybe this gave rise to the people-pleasing affliction, which is again something that a lot of people suffer from(including me).
You never know, but the root of such causes is mostly embedded in our childhood.
This judging of emotions into good and bad can have some consequences. If you judge an emotion as good, you will chase it, and you will try your best to avoid bad emotions.
This judging sets you up to struggle with your feelings.
Emotions and feelings are nothing but a stream of constantly changing sensations and urges, continuously passing through our bodies. Just because some sensations feel a bit uncomfortable, does not mean that they are ‘bad’.
If you grew up in a family where love and affection were not openly expressed, then you may find these feelings uncomfortable. But does that mean they are ‘bad’?
Isi’t it fascinating that though many people judge fear as a ‘bad’ emotion, yet they will pay good money to watch a horror movie, or have a haunted house experience, just to experience that very feeling!
What does this tell you?
No emotion is itself ‘bad’.
‘Bad’ is just a thought, just a judgment made by our thinking self. We just have to be aware that this is happening, and we must not believe our irrational thoughts.
You can use the techniques discussed here to be more aware of your automatic thoughts.
Whenever you find yourself judging an emotion or a thought, just be aware of that ‘judging’ phenomenon and ask yourself “is this thought or judgment helpful?”
Most probably it will be not. Then just say to yourself “Judging..” and let it be.
This is how our mind adds to the emotional discomfort
Judging Judging and Judging, that’s what our mind is doing all the time. Be it judging someone else, ourselves, or our feelings, our mind just loves doing that.
You are walking down the street and you see someone with a weird outfit, your mind will be like “what a weird outfit, I will never wear something like that!”
But when it comes to judging our own feelings, it gets even more scrutinizing.
Questions start coming up. Questions such as:
- why am I feeling like this?
- what have I done to deserve this?
- what is wrong with me?
- I shouldn’t feel like this
- I wish I didn’t feel like this
What have you ever gained by engaging with these questions? In most scenarios, you just end up feeling even worse.
By trying to answer these questions you tend to revisit all your life problems in an attempt to figure out what exactly is not working out in your life.
Which again wastes a lot of time and mental capacity.
You blame yourself, feel worthless, feel hopeless, blame your parents, you blame your reality.
Can you ever win an argument with reality?
Wishful thinking is one of the favorite pastimes of mind.
“I wish I felt more confident”
“I wish I didn’t feel so anxious”
“I wish I didn’t get into toxic relationships”
This can keep us wrapped up in second-guessing ourselves for hours, imagining how better our lives could be if only we felt differently.
Such thinking does not help us deal with life NOW.
What if we stop believing judgments about our feelings?
We struggle because we believe our mind when it tells us that uncomfortable feelings are ‘bad’ or ‘dangerous’ and that we are defective for having them and that they will hurt us in some way.
Our brain then perceives these feelings as a threat and activates the fight and flight response which then gives rise to a whole new set of unpleasant feelings!
Now Imagine a distant relative shows up at your place.
You’ve never met this person but you’ve been told a lot of stories about them. You’ve heard that they are a bad person who always bitch about others.
Also that they always end up hurting close people and ruining their lives.
Now if you truly believed these stories about them, would you want them in your house? Or rather, would you want them anywhere near you?
Obviously not. You would try to get rid of them asap!
But… what if all those stories were false or exaggerated? What if that relative was actually an okay person who had just been a victim of malicious gossip?
The only way you could actually find out would be to spend some time with them without letting judgment come in the way.
We all have probably experienced something like this.
Maybe there was someone at school or at work whom you’d heard a lot of bad things about, but when you did spend some time with them, you realized that they were nowhere near as bad as their reputation.
You may have experienced the opposite too! We might have heard some great things about someone, only to find out how horrible they were in person.
Hence… in learning to handle unpleasant emotions we need to have a direct experience of them, rather than automatically believing the stories of our mind.
When we do this, we’ll discover that those feelings are nowhere near as ‘bad’ as we thought and we’ll realize they can’t possibly hurt or overwhelm us.
So, from now on, intend to catch your mind in the act when it tries to hook you with these questions and comments.
Then simply refuse to play the game. Thank your mind for trying to waste your time, and focus instead on some useful or meaningful activity or just your breath.
You may find it helpful to say something to yourself like, ‘Thanks, Mind, but I’m not playing today.’
Check out the book The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris. One of the best books ever about thoughts and the mind.
The Curious Overthinker