Be Real, Not Positive

CryingIn the movie, “Princess Diaries,” there’s a scene where the main protagonist, Mia, sobs in her mother’s arms, after being humiliated in public. While holding and comforting Mia, her mother tells her it’s ok to cry because she has been hurt. That scene made an impression, because it doesn’t seem to be the norm.

For most of us, we’ve learned to “get over it” fast and buck up whenever we feel upset for any reason. We don’t really have the time or the room for inconvenient, sometimes messy negative emotions. Aside from the fact that they don’t feel good, they also make people around us really uncomfortable. In contemporary times, our inability to deal with negative emotions has an ally in the misapplication of positive psychology and spirituality (especially the Law of Attraction). That is, difficult feelings are not to be given any attention or airtime, lest we perpetuate the unwanted conditions.

Yes, energy indeed flows where attention goes. But, denying hurt doesn’t make it go away. It only festers underneath the radar of our consciousness, and eventually catches up with us—often at the most unexpected and inopportune times. Besides, difficult emotions do have their sacred place in our human experience. Along with the positive emotions we want, the negative ones we don’t want are two sides of the same coin, two halves of the same whole, the same oneness of life. We can’t reject one half without rejecting the whole of life. It’s an intrinsic part of the human experience to feel bad and badly sometimes.

Treasures in Negative Emotions

Having said all that, what do we do about our negative emotions? Surely, we don’t want to be crippled by them, do we? Here are the steps I’ve learned to honor negative emotions and to harvest the treasures they bear in personal growth.

Step One: Acknowledge. Feelings exist for the sole purpose of being felt, per Dr. Robert Holden, a spiritual psychotherapist. Imagine calling someone and being put on hold for years, if not indefinitely. That’s what happens when we ignore the feelings we don’t want to face. Can you imagine being put on hold indefinitely? Yikes! No wonder we get volcanic eruptions!

WelcomeStep Two: Allow. If feelings exist to be felt, we need to give them time and space to do their job. This is especially true with respect to grief from loss of any kind. Grieving fully honors the experience we’ve shared with someone or something we’ve lost. There’s no hard and fast rule as to how long we need to grieve. Rather, our heart knows when we’re ready to heal, to distill the good in the experience and to transform the pain.

Step Three: Learn. Negative experiences don’t show up in our lives just to piss us off or to mess with our happiness. When we allow the grieving process to complete, we come to terms with what happened, even if we may never like the loss itself. From there, we can unearth the treasure within the pain, and integrate that into the rest of our journey through life. What did the experience teach me? What purpose did it serve? Was it a reminder to value every moment I have with someone I love? Was it a reminder to value each moment in the present, not to regret the past or to worry about the future? Are there some unhealthy thought or behavioral patterns I need to release to avoid repeating the same undesirable (personal or professional) experience? Might there be hidden limiting beliefs to update?

The key in this step is to not let the pain be in vain, and to harvest the treasure contained in what hurtwhen we’re ready.

Step Four: Release. While, in some cases, we may never want to forget whom/what we lost, we don’t need to hang onto the trauma or the pain once we’ve allowed grieving, healing, and learning to run their full course. Other difficult feelings may be associated with old—perhaps even buried—experiences, that only surface when we do deep, transformational work, such as what my clients experience. There are a myriad of tools to help us release trapped negative emotions or energy quickly and easily, including Emotional Freedom Technique, Access Consciousness, just to name a few sets of tools. In some cases, when we feel we’ve been wronged in any way, true forgiveness of self and others is necessary. The processes in The Gathering by Jim Rosemergy are especially powerful.

Living Our Best Life Through Bad Times

OrchidEmbracing negative emotions is neither popular nor objectively fun. However, it’s an unavoidable part of the human experience that’s ultimately freeing. While we may individually have different reasons for being here in this life, we all ultimately want to court more happiness, love, peace and fulfillment, don’t we? By raising our mindfulness and consciousness in how we live, we allow more of these qualities of our True Inner Essence to come through. Living mindfully and consciously doesn’t mean putting a non-discriminant happy face on everything—especially on ourselves when we’re in the midst of real challenges or grieving a loss. Honoring our negative emotions is about being honest, real and authentic. And, if you asked me, there’s really no better way to ensure that we live our best life, come what may.

Over to you: What’s your take on embracing negative emotions? Do you find it natural or difficult to do? How do you remain authentic and real with your emotions? Would love for you to share in the comment box below for the sake of our collective learning!

(P. S. Livefyre is a comment management system I’ve integrated into my blog here. It’ll prompt you to sign up or login in with Facebook, Twitter or another social media solely for the purpose of letting you know if anyone has responded to your comment to keep the dialogue going, if you so desire. You only have to do this once, and the system will remember you. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and thoughts!)

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About Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Dr. Alice Chan is passionate about developing conscious leaders and organizations. Her path to serve her life purpose has included being an award-winning Cornell professor and a leader in the corporate world for nearly 15 years. She’s the author of the book, REACH Your Dreams: Five Steps to be a Conscious Creator in Your Life, and creator of the program, 30 Days to Living Your Best Life. All content on this blog and website is her own, not the opinions of her employer.

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16 comments
ariakabirgmailcom
ariakabirgmailcom

Hi Alice,

I think it very interesting to look at all emotions and not  judge the emotion as being negative or positive and to let your self feel it.  Thank you for writing about this.  I still have a hard time accepting my negative emotions.  I feel fearful and I feel like the whole world will fall apart if I allow my negative emotions to come out.  You are so right about people always looking for the positive and not allowing the negative part.  Thanks for sharing your 4 steps which gives us a way to deal with these emotions.

muz4now
muz4now

Hey, @DrAliceChan - I am really appreciating your post. It has put into words something that I'm seeking in my life. (And I see that you and I both got a mention over at Susan Featro's @VoiceLifted blog.)

 

My thought is that the 4 step process can be relatively quick (at least with some practice). I think if it is stretched out for too long (with the feeling still in tow), it could become another way to stay stuck in feelings. And I'm sure that this could vary with the emotion involved. (For example, anger would likely be a faster 4-step than grief.)

 

Thanks, again, for the helpful and thought-provoking post!

VoiceLifted
VoiceLifted

Alice,

 

This blog post was an inspiring read.  I believe that we can easily move through emotions and not get "stuck" anywhere if we allow ourselves to feel these feelings naturally and let them run their course.  It's when we get in the way and try to regulate those "negative" emotions that they end up taking us down.  One thing that has always bothered me is when people fake their smile and their positivity.  I so much rather "real."  Seeing others be real leads me to connect to them, while seeing others who are pretending to have it all together and flitting around life spreading happy thoughts...leads me to feel isolated.  Your beautiful blog post is inspiring one of my own, Alice.  Stay tuned for my next post on "authenticity of emotions."  ~ Susan

Casey Fleming
Casey Fleming

Hi Alice,

 

Once again you’ve written a very insightful piece.  I am reminded of a couple of different periods in my life where I was trying to cope with a tremendous loss, and found myself struggling mightily.  My siblings, all of whom used anti-depressants regularly and for long periods of time, encouraged me to do the same.  I refused.  I knew that the only way through the pain was through the grief.  

 

You have such a beautiful way of breaking down the process: grieving, healing, learning.  In grieving, I had to learn that it was just perfect the way it was.  I didn’t need to feel differently, and in fact denying my pain would have trivialized the love I had felt and masked the personal growth inside the experience. 

 

In healing, I had to allow myself to forgive and release the anger and bitterness.  There was a strong emotional payoff in holding onto my righteous indignation, so it wasn’t easy to let go of that.  I could no longer be “right” – I had to just be, and let what happened simply be as it was. 

 

And learning the lesson was the most difficult part.  I naturally jumped to the first lesson that crossed my mind.  Why?  Because it reinforced what I already wanted to believe.  Allowing myself to go deeper allowed me to see possibilities I hadn’t seen before, and to understand my own role in creating the story.  I saw old attitudes and voices driving my beliefs.  Once those were shed, I saw possibilities I had never even considered before, and found myself open to allowing more love in than I had ever known.

 

I did not go through this process quickly, mind you.  My last heartbreak took several years to get through.  But looking back, I did it completely.  At the end I felt complete; with her, with myself, and with what we had shared. 

 

The final lesson was moving forward.  Pain, once through it, turns into fear for me.  I had to learn to feel the fear and do it anyway.  I had to take risks, try new realities for myself, and feel again.  It was worth every moment, and every ounce of pain, as it led me to where and who I am now. 

 

Thank you for your powerful way of teaching.

 

Casey

Samantha_S_Hall
Samantha_S_Hall

Alice, this is a FANTASTIC post!  I was saying YES! YES! YES! the whole time I was reading it!

 

Just last night and this morning, I was thinking about writing a post about 'shame'.  And as I was considering some of the ways many people have been or are being shamed, one of the biggies has to do with being shamed for having and experiencing our authentic emotions.  i.e. When children are told, 'Quit crying or I'll give you something to cry about!' 'Quit being such a cry baby!' etc

 

One of the areas that I've studied and have done a great deal of work on (and continue) is in the area of the language of feelings.  Re-connecting with our own emotional body since for many, our culture automatically conditions us to disconnect from this part of ourselves in very many ways.  When we aren't allowed or given permission to feel what we are really feeling, those feelings are energy in motion.  If we block them, where are they going to go?  They get repressed, suppressed, or lead out in passive aggressive ways.  Even depression is considered to be a form of anger turned against oneself. 

 

I also loved what you brought up about the positive thinking movement and the law of attraction.  This is something I've touched on here and there in some of my comments on other blog posts. It's very important.  Psychologists refer to this type of thinking as premature positive thinking, or 'magical thinking'.  It's a form of denial.  Now I'm certainly not saying this to 'shame' anyone as it has been a very popular trap many have fallen into because it's one of those 'half-truth' situations that can be all too easy to get stuck in, especially when so many leaders and teachers have promoted it. 

 

This is just wonderful Alice. LOVE this post! 

 

I'll close by saying something else I've learned along the way: We can't heal what we are unwilling or unable to feel.  All our feelings are important. Normal. Natural. And Necessary. : )

 

~Samantha

jaqstone
jaqstone

Hi, Alice.

This is a powerful post. You alluded to one of the consequences of suppressing or denying negative emotions ... the inability to feel any emotions. I've seen many times where people so fear their natural emotional responses that they shut down emotionally. The result is numbness that makes them unable to enjoy anything and unable to connect with anyone. 

We've been conditioned by our societal rules to believe that emotions of sadness and anger are bad and must be avoided or hidden away. This belief is debilitating. Simply acknowledging how we feel and giving ourselves the space to feel is the beginning of releasing the emotion. Clinging to them or resisting them keeps us stuck, in the emotion and in life. Allowing ourselves to feel and release emotion sets us free, making us available to life and all it has to offer.

ThinDifference
ThinDifference

Wonderful post, again, Alice. I believe steps 3 and 4 are where people get stuck. Learn and Release are essential steps. When we really think about it, the challenging times are the ones we learn the most from, as difficult as they are. We are stronger, if we choose to learn, release, and move forward in a renewed way.

 

Emotions can be challenging, especially if they get out of control. This is where mindful practices seem to really help. I am in the exploration phase on mindfulness, but it seems to follow a similar process. We need to acknowledge our thoughts and emotions but then let them go.... back to release. 

 

Some important points to think through and, especially, put into practice. Thanks for providing a simply powerful way to do it. Jon

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

 @ariakabirgmailcom Thank you for sharing your comments, Aria. You're by no means alone in terms of having a hard time with unwanted emotions. Lots of people are in the same boat. I still slip into the reflex of judging and shunning what I don't want to feel. Honoring our negative emotions is very counter to the way most of us have been raised and socialized. The 4 steps came from distilling what I've learned from different sources and reflecting on how I've unlearned old perspectives about avoiding what I didn't want to feel. Thank you for joining in this conversation, Aria!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

 @muz4now  @VoiceLifted Thank you, Stan, for contributing to this discussion. Susan wrote a great post on this topic, too, and I'm most honored to be mentioned in hers.

 

Yes, with practice, we ought to be able to move through the 4 steps rather quickly. That's what practice does with mastering anything, right? And, the speed would also indeed vary with the "severity" of the emotion and the situation. I like your point about staying stuck in feelings, which is why it's so wonderful that there are release tools that help us process what we don't want to hold onto much faster. Anyway, great to see you here, Stan, and thank you again for adding your insights and wisdom!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

 @VoiceLifted Thank you very much, Susan, for adding your voice to this discussion. I completely agree with you that it's our authenticity and vulnerabilities that make us approachable. I used to think that if I had it together and never showed my fears and humanness, I wouldn't risk being rejected. It's much more freeing to be able to honor all of my humanness, whatever form it comes in at any moment, as that's all part of the experience I came into this life to have. Honored that this post has inspired one of your own, Susan, and thank you again for adding your insights to the discussion here!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

 @Casey Fleming Casey, many thanks for the great insights from personal experience that you shared! Yes, grieving is very much about honoring what is. I also love what you said about healing being about giving up self-righteous indignation. When we're still licking our wounds, we need to be right. Until we can let that go, we can't truly heal. As for learning, both you and @ThinDifference observed that this is a challenging step where many could get stuck. It takes willingness and openness to seeing the deeper lessons contained that may not be immediately obvious. But, when we are willing to dig deep, we learn what we couldn't see before. That's how we grow. Much gratitude again, Casey, for sharing so authentically and deeply from your own experience to enrich the discussion here!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

 @Samantha_S_Hall Great addition to this discussion, Samantha! I'm so with you about how emotionally stunted we are. As I said in my reply to @jaqstone (who writes a great blog about consciousness, BTW), I spent most of my life not knowing what or how I felt and tried to manage my disconnection with my intellect. Suffice it to say, it wasn't pretty. It's really important that we know our emotions and not make them wrong. You're absolutely right, that we can heal what we are unwilling or unable to feel. Well said! Thanks again, Samantha!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

 @jaqstone Completely agree with you, Jacqueline! I learned this the hard way myself, having spent most of my life trying to "regulate" my emotions with my intellect. I was really disconnected from how and what I felt. That's why I learned that "Acknowledge" and "Allow" are important steps to welcoming back our negative emotions, so that we can learn from what they have to teach us about each experience. Thank you again for adding your insights to this discussion!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

 @ThinDifference Thank you very much for your thoughtful comments, Jon. I'm with you in terms of our biggest growth coming from our challenges--that's why they are part of our lives. In terms of mindfulness, it really is ultimately about non-attachment. In this case, it's detaching from emotions, and not just negative ones, but positive ones also. So, release is a key step, especially after we've harvested the lesson contained in the emotions associated with any experience. Many thanks again for your thoughtful contribution to this conversation, Jon!

VoiceLifted
VoiceLifted

  Hi @DrAliceChan !   Hi @muz4now !

I think this discussion of the timing of moving through the 4 steps is great.  So important.  I think it's a very delicate balance.  I know that I have, in situations in my past, erred on both sides.  I have sometimes rushed through these steps, not honoring what I was feeling...trying to just "get on with things."  At other times, I have stayed stuck in one place, ruminating on feelings instead of processing them...thereby not reaching the point of growth, not harvesting the treasures available to me.  

 

I agree that the amount of time that it takes to move through the 4 steps will really vary from person to person & from situation to situation.  It is important to honestly evaluate if we are moving through the steps at a healthy pace so that we can benefit from all of the lessons that can be taken away.  I appreciate you both sharing your thoughts and continuing to allow me to go deeper in my own reflection on this great topic.

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

 @VoiceLifted  @muz4now Susan, your thoughtful comments here are much appreciated! I think we can all relate to what you said about trying to "get on with things" sometimes and dwelling on the pain at others. Dealing with emotions is a messy affair, and we can't force it to be anything else. The less we judge the experience and try to make it "right," the more we honor our humanness and let the process run its course. Thank you very much for contributing to the deepening of this discussion, Susan! Your authentic and thoughtful insights are a gift!

Trackbacks

  1. […] post is inspired by a recent blog post by Dr. Alice Chan: Be Real, Not Positive.    Dr. Alice Chan and I connected through Twitter, and I have found her to be an authentic and […]

  2. […] how to let go of negative ones. This sparked some controversy, and I raised my hand to address this positivity bias that I’ve been seeing in the yoga community in general (term coined by my friend and […]

  3. […] that her husband leaving her is ultimately for her highest good, even if she needs to give her natural human reactions—i.e., anger, sadness, anxiety, indignation, etc.—the regular airtime they need to be processed […]

  4. […] #3: Be willing to be authentic and real with yourself. I’ve written about this before, and it’s so important that it warrants repeating. It’s critical not to shun what we judge as […]

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