Turning Towards, Not Away from Difficult Emotions

searching for purpose

How remarkable it is that as soon as we experience a “negative” emotion, most persons promptly go to war with it. An instinctive aversion will twist, knead, beat, expunge, or whitewash with positivity the unwelcome emotion – do almost anything, but allow you to experience it.

Anger, fear, shame, jealousy, grief, frustration, guilt, hatred, sadness, envy, despair… Who would want to willingly experience such? A prospective client with whom I once met typified this disinclination. When I suggested that he might let himself feel his unwanted emotions, instantly he shot back, “Why would I want to do that?”

Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas which was discovered in Egypt in 1945 offered an answer: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

Emotions repressed into the unconscious do not disappear; they fester, and await to erupt into consciousness. Just because you clean and tidy the consciousness by sweeping emotional difficulties into the closet of the unconscious does not mean they are gone.

How then do you relate to difficult emotions in a way that encourages your well-being and personal growth? An overlooked key to transformation is learning to acknowledge, be with, honor, and own your experience, as it is, in the moment as both your truth and your path to transformation.

Rather than deny that you are feeling the unpleasant emotion, you acknowledge the fact that yes, you are. To paraphrase the philosopher, Ayn Rand, ‘You can deny your emotions, but you cannot avoid the consequences of denying your emotions.’

Rather than repress the feeling, you simply to pull up a metaphorical “chair” beside the difficulty, and accompany your feeling with a gentle curiosity that welcomes hearing the feeling’s message. What does your sorrow need? What can your anger teach you? You can only know when you engage your emotions, and they all have something to share.

By just being with your unpleasant emotion (but not to the point of overwhelm) – or for that matter being with any experience – letting it be as it is without any intention to change it – releases the suffering that comes from your resisting your experience. (Nevertheless such acceptance is not an endorsement.)

Your difficult emotion is a fact of your experience. As such, you honor it as your truth, as it happens to be in the present moment.

By acknowledging, being with, and honoring your emotion, however unpleasant it may be, you take ownership of your emotion for which you alone are responsible.

A dream that I had in my 20s demonstrates the effect of engaging unpleasantness, rather than avoiding it. Of course, it refers to what I was working with at that time:

I dreamed that I was at a photographic exhibit of images of war. From a distance, I saw a woman who was covered with scars. I felt repulsed by her disfigurement, embarrassed for her, and avoided her. As I went around the exhibit, I eventually found myself standing beside her as we looked at an image. I avoided acknowledging her presence beside me. Finally, I turned towards her, and began to speak with her, and as I did her scars began to heal and disappear.

Turning towards your difficult emotions with the light of your awareness and acceptance is a path of least resistance to your unfolding.

1 comment to Turning Towards, Not Away from Difficult Emotions

  • Sandy Killgo

    Never judge a feeling as ‘negative’.
    Simply feel it.
    Let its energy move in your body.

    Breathe into discomfort,
    oxygenate sadness,
    saturate anger with presence,
    drench fear with tender curiosity.

    You’ll find no ‘negativity’;
    only a precious part of you
    longing for acceptance.

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