There Are No Bad Emotions!

There Are No Bad Emotions!
By: Sarah L. Shields, MSW, LSW

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As a therapist, I have often come across the idea of “bad” or “good” feelings. We are all probably familiar with what feelings are “good” and which are “bad”. We’ve probably even been told that we shouldn’t feel some of those “bad” emotions; this can especially be true when we are children. How often did we then, or even now, hear the phrases “Don’t cry.” or “Don’t be mad.”? Emotions get categorized into being “good” or “bad” or “right” or “wrong”, even though most of the time we can’t even help that we have felt a particular feeling! When working with children, I often facilitate an activity in when we read different scenarios and I ask them to describe what feeling or feelings may correspond to that situation for them. I also encourage the client to look at the feelings as comfortable or uncomfortable, especially when dealing with tougher scenarios. Most clients have several answers and some of the emotions they respond with aren’t always those “nice, good” emotions. When we reflect on the activity, we discuss several of the scenarios including how we can’t help feeling a bit jealous when a fellow classmate gets a better grade than us on a test or, for adult clients, how a co-worker gets a promotion that we’d been vying for, too. We can’t help crying or feeling withdrawn when a friend hurts our feelings. We can’t help feeling sad when we lose a loved one.  While it may not feel “good” to have these emotions, they are still emotions nonetheless and should not be ignored or pushed away. The more we suppress our true emotions, comfortable and uncomfortable, the more they build up inside of us and if never addressed they will come out and typically in an unhealthy manner. It is important to recognize, identify, and accept all of our emotions so that we can utilize appropriate coping strategies for whatever emotion(s) we may experience.

It is also important to realize that it is unrealistic to always feel those “good” emotions and that’s okay! Too often in our society, we are told not to express those “bad” or uncomfortable emotions, in fact we are encouraged to suppress them, ignore them, and change them right away. Instead, I challenge my clients  to accept how they feel, especially since we can’t always help how we feel. Feelings, as well as thoughts, come and go. They are not necessarily facts and they may not always be our truths. Instead of fighting what we may not be able to completely control, why not try to accept what we feel, in that moment, for who we are, just as we are.

In my practice, I strive to instill ideas about radical self-acceptance in my clients. The tenets of radical self-acceptance hinges on the idea that we can live a more mindful, calm, and meaningful life when we stop judging ourselves and start accepting who we are, our true selves, for what we are. Only then, can we make true changes, if necessary (Brach, 2003). I encourage you to step back from your own problems, identify and name your emotions, label them “uncomfortable” or “comfortable” (not good or bad!) and then begin to try to accept that in yourself. Once you can accept that this is how you feel, or begin to try to, you can then stop fighting or giving so much of your precious energy to the things that you can’t even help and get back to living a life that you want!

Melina Elia