The Value of Sitting with Uncomfortable Emotions

For some, the holiday season can truly be the most wonderful time of the year, for others it can be quite the opposite. While it can be tempting to try to ignore, dismiss, or numb out painful emotions that surface in this time, there is profound value in acknowledging and sitting with our intense feelings. 

Pain is- you know- painful and therefore our tendency as humans is to turn to anything we can to get rid of the feeling and reduce suffering. Turning to substances, food, self-harm, lashing out at others, Netflix binges, etc. can seem like an effective quick fix in the midst of deep emotional pain. However, while these quick fixes may seem to minimize pain in the moment, over time we are really just increasing it. 

Undealt with emotions rarely ever disappear, instead they tend to morph and find other ways to surface. For example, think of a person who is disappointed about a deal that did not go through at work and lashes out at their family by yelling at them for something insignificant, or the person who buries their grief and begins to find themselves chronically stressed. Undealt with emotions do resurface and often it can be at inopportune times. Our undealt with emotions can impact our relationships with others, our jobs, our physical health, and our overall well being. In addition, sometimes the things we use to numb our pain causes us to feel additional shame, only exacerbating the problem. 

It can be scary even think about sitting in uncomfortable emotions. The fear is real. Many of us were not modeled how to deal with these types of emotions and therefore it can seem like an impossible task. Let me assure you that while it can seem scary, it is not an impossible task.

Emotions exist for a reason, they are trying to tell us something. Emotions are the way our brain and body communicate with us. An important step in learning to sit with our painful feelings is to recognize what the emotion is and where it came from. While our emotions may feel bad, the emotion itself is not bad. When we can learn to acknowledge an emotion without judging it or judging ourself for feeling it, a sense of freedom results. 

Not only can we engage an emotion without judging it, we can get curious about it. As we get curious about it, we have the invitation to learn from it. We can ask questions such as: “What is this anger telling me about myself and my situation?” Where does my sadness around this situation come from? Why do I feel so nervous about this situation?” 

When we engage our emotions with curiosity, they can be a launching point for self-awareness and self-compassion. This does not mean that we will immediately feel better, however it gives purpose and function to what we are experiencing. There is an invitation to learn and grow from the painful emotions. They can also allow us to reflect on our choices and see opportunities for different choices in the future. 

If this feels too overwhelming, remember that you don’t have to do this alone. Friends, counseling, support groups, etc. can be an incredible resource that can help you navigate your painful experiences. 

***The information contained herein is not therapeutic advice nor a substitute for therapy. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any mental health problem. If you are located within the United States and you need emergency assistance please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. If you are located within Colorado you may also call the Colorado Crisis Line at 844-493-TALK (8255).

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