I recently wrote a post called ‘When the facade of a good mood is beneficial‘ – basically when it works to sort of trick our brain to help us along in the day. But this is not suppressing emotions. This is definitely not in support of toxic positivity, which is in the fabric of society and I really loathe it. Because it is fundamentally important for us to experience negative emotions.
I sometimes think with chronic pain, fibromyalgia and chronic illness overall we feel so guilty for our negative emotions. Like they are somehow wrong. That we must be ‘catastrophizing’ or ‘making a fuss’ and we are not worthy of expressing them and people do not want to hear about them. So we get used to just Not. Being stoic. Masking suffering. Pushing through.
Do not avoid-Understand
Instead of suppressing emotions or avoiding them or denying them which can lead to significant problems long term. It is better to let ourselves feel them with some understanding and definitely when it comes to illness, some actual compassion.
- Embrace the fact you are feeling the emotion
- Determine or think about the true cause of that emotion. The actual trigger for it.
- Accept the message that emotion is trying to send you. Maybe that action needs to be taken. Or the exact opposite-rest is needed. Or a plan needs to be made. See what is being carried forth by this emotion.
- Then we can release that emotion
Negative emotions are not ‘bad’ emotions
Attempts to suppress feelings such as anger or sadness can actually reduce our sense of contentment.World Economic Forum
This is because negative emotions are not actually ‘bad’. It is weird to call them that. Maybe it is because we don’t want them. They do not bring comfort. In fact, with chronic pain and illness negative emotions are extremely complicated, difficult and complex. We have some seriously bad days. That is why we need some serious self-compassion for our bad days. Allow ourselves to feel those emotions. And process them.
Because emotions are signals. They are designed to motivate us or to stop us from something, so the opposite of motivating us. Like frustration, motivation is in the direction of change in some way or another. Fear though can make us wary of acting or cautious of a situation due to being unsure of our safety.
suppressing thoughts means we cannot accurately evaluate life’s experiences. If we don’t allow ourselves the lows, then the satisfaction from the highs becomes lessened. As the author explains, “attempting to suppress thoughts can backfire and even diminish our sense of contentment”.World Economic Forum
Obviously, if they get unmanaged they can become a problem. We are all aware of that. But that is no different than positive emotions. Unmanaged optimism, for example, can be very unrealistic and lead to unrealistic expectations of reality and even taking dangerous risks due to that unrealistic assessment of reality. But, we have to be very attuned to when our emotions get to the level of needing extra attention- to the point of mental health issues- as I know I ignored my depressive symptoms entirely too long. That can be quite dangerous.
negative emotions are likely to be important for our survival. The negativity associated with a health issue, or a relationship, or work, makes it clear to us that there is a problem. It alerts us to the things that need attention and that we need to change. Simply put: “The survival value of negative thoughts and emotions may help explain why suppressing them is so fruitless.”World Economic Forum
We have to stop shaming ourselves when we experience negative emotions. We should be non-judgemental about them. Yes, we do have to manage them by being open and understanding to the experience. And understanding what those emotions are telling us.
Delaying the inevitable
There are several reasons why emotional avoidance is harmful.
First, important goals and pursuits in your life may inherently involve going through some challenging times and situations, and an unwillingness to “pay the toll” for the trip may narrow your life horizons needlessly. Over time, avoidance becomes a prison, because after a while you begin to feel the need to avoid many situations, people, experiences and places that may bring the negative emotion to mind, stir it, or remind you of it. And the more you avoid, the weaker you feel, the more your coping skills diminish, and the less of life you can experience.Psychology Today
However, managed emotional stressors lead to chronic stress. That, as we know, is not at all good for our health. We try to manage all that all the time because chronic illness causes a massive emotional toll. But I definitely think while dealing with my major depressive disorder learning to accept negative emotions that arise normally in life and definitely arise more so with chronic pain and how to cope and adjust to them, instead of suppressing them, has helped immensely.
For me, I felt that expressing that pain in any way was hard to cope with or I was having a problem coping with it was a weakness. And expressing emotion, likewise, was a weakness. I admit, I am not much for emoting emotion anyway, so I have to find a way to understand, accept, feel and let emotions flow through me. And begin to know why I am feeling them. What signals my body is attempting to express that I am adamantly trying to ignore.
Things to think about
- Suppressing thoughts/feelings can actually be more stressful and cause anxiety
- Trying to be constantly positive can make a person unhappier. This is the price of toxic positivity. We internally know we cannot live up to it, that we fail to be ‘happy’ all the time and we shame ourselves for any negative emotion we experience.
- Trying to constantly not think about something- tends to make you think about it more often. And feel worse about it.
- Feeling guilty about our negative emotions many of us will turn to comforting habits like eating more ‘comfort’ foods to soothe ourselves.
- We have between 40k and 60k thoughts a day- and I’m sorry to say I really doubt all of them are going to be sunshine and roses.
- This doesn’t mean you can’t be rational about your negative thoughts when they come so you do not ruminate about them. Ask yourself ‘would someone that cares about me say that to me?’ Or think about the worst case scenario and a plan of action which can actually decrease anxiety about the whole situation. Or examine if there is an ‘evidence’ to back that thought. Or sometimes just take a few deep relaxation breaths.
- And when you find yourself ruminating on a negative thought process you can do distraction techniques: take a walk, listen to music, exercise, engage in some sort of hobby or something to ‘get into’ like a book, or scheduale specific ‘worry time’ in the day.
- Writing in a journal is a good way to get thoughts out that are bothering you. It can be very cathartic.