People have emotions. Men, women, and people of all races experience a wide array of emotions on a spectrum that ranges from bad to good. Sometimes we hit the rock bottom extreme of “bad”. Sometimes we can fly so high that it seems nothing could bring us down from the utmost extreme of “good”. Normally we are somewhere in the middle of the continuum, fluctuating between good and bad. Sometimes we trickle over into one extreme that is beyond the range of normal, but we usually find our way back to an area of acceptable balance.
Many times we need to withhold our emotions; specifically, the “bad” or unhappy ones. Whether we do this because of the way we were raised, how society teaches us, or a job, we can suppress painful feelings. This can certainly create problems.
Many times I hear people that are clearly upset about something say things such as, “it doesn’t matter”, “I’m apathetic”, or “I don’t care, just forget about it”. While this may serve as a way of protecting one’s dignity or sensitivity, I do believe that severe consequences can follow. By not allowing ourselves to feel intense or bad emotions, we are unable to grow stronger and learn how to properly deal with what life hands us. The sadness, anger, frustration, etc. swirl about in our inner worlds and pervade our experiences and interactions with others. This reminds me of a common situation: when a person who is very upset about something walks into a room full of happy people, everyone can feel it and it dampers the light atmosphere.
The emotions that we don’t allow ourselves to feel will end up beckoning for attention. More than often this can end up in using behaviors as tools to numb ourselves, like shopping for things we don’t need, drinking too much alcohol, using drugs, having promiscuous relationships, or anything else that fills the “void” so that the emotions don’t have a chance to. Sometimes we blame other people or our environment for the things we feel, which are legitimate causes. However, if we do not accept responsibility for our own reactions and deny our feeling, we can rebel against things outside of ourselves. For example, lets say someone’s boss upset them at work, but the person pretended like nothing was the matter. That person starts to rebel by showing up intentionally late, not returning phone calls, or only half-listening when they converse with their boss. Lastly, we use things to distract us from feeling, like watching TV, nail-biting, or eating because we don’t want to pay attention to what is going on inside of us.
To stop the any sort of destructive cycles from forming, we need to allow ourselves to feel. We need to allow ourselves to sit, however painfully, in the negative or intense emotion as soon as possible. Our rebellious, distracting, and numbing parts can be behaviors that we use to stifle our emotions for days, weeks, months, or even years. It can create vicious cycles of destructive behaviors, causing much damage in the long run. Therefore, by allowing ourselves to feel something bad for a couple minutes, hours, or days, we use our most instinctive, natural, and healthy way to cope.
By Danielle Meyer
Danielle is the Art Therapy Intern at the Awakening Center and a student at The Adler School of Professional Psychology. She runs the Eating Disorder Drop-In Support Group on Tuesday evenings and the Art Therapy Support Group on Thursday evenings.