1. Intro to Uncomfortable Emotions
2. Two Unhelpful & Unhealthy Common Approaches
3. A Better Way
4. Summary and Application Questions
Anger, fear, sadness, and anxiety are a few common emotions which we all find uncomfortable. These should not be labeled as “negative” emotions because they are both natural and helpful. Uncomfortable emotions are like dashboard warning lights. No-one likes these lights, but we’d be wise to not ignore them. They are positive and beneficial. The point of automotive warning lights is to alert drivers to a problem before it is serious. The same is true of our uncomfortable emotions.
There are two common, yet unhelpful, ways of dealing with uncomfortable emotions. The first common method for addressing our uncomfortable emotions is numbing, stuffing, or ignoring them. At its root, this is a form of denial. These uncomfortable emotions arise in quiet moments, or they erupt in times of stress. Instead of identifying and addressing the problem that triggered the warning light, we put a piece of tape over the light and pretend everything is fine. You can predict where this will end. There are many reasons why we ignore our emotions. Many people lack the knowledge to effectively deal with them. Others, lack the practical skills. Still others are afraid of where the emotions may lead. Our tendency to ignore uncomfortable emotions is one root of our modern anxiety epidemic.
A second common and unhelpful approach to addressing our uncomfortable emotions is over-identifying with them. In everyday conversation you frequently hear people giving these emotions too much power in their lives. “I’m a worrier. It’s just the way I am.” “I have a short fuse. I can’t help it.” “I am depressed.” We all know people who are controlled by anger, depression, or worry. Over-identifying with the emotions hands the wheel of your life over to them. In this method, emotions are falsely viewed as too powerful and unchangeable. Over-identifying with negative emotions is just as unhealthy as ignoring them.
There is a better way. Rejecting these two unhealthy and unhelpful methods of addressing uncomfortable emotions, the wise identify the emotions and learn from them. It is important to correctly identify the emotion. Mislabeling leads to problems. If the tire light is shining on your car dashboard, it is potentially harmful to only look at your battery. Many people mislabel loneliness as sadness. Some mislabel disappointment as anger. Do you see the problem? If you mislabel an emotion, you cannot address it or resolve it properly.
In addition to labeling the emotion properly, a wise person asks the emotion questions. “Why are you upset? What are you trying to tell me? What do you want me to do?” If uncomfortable emotions are like automotive dash lights, then it behooves us to investigate the reason the warning light is glowing. The process of investigating the root cause is not easy and may require help from friends. People who know you well can help you dig for the source problems triggering the emotions. It is important to be honest about the source. Avoid the tendency to polish or whitewash it. Only after a person labels the emotion properly and identifies the root problem can effective and lasting solutions be found.
We all have a wide range of emotions - some are enjoyable, and some are not. Even though they are natural and helpful, emotions like anger, sadness, anxiety, and fear are uncomfortable. It is very easy to respond to these emotions in unhelpful and unhealthy ways. There is a better way. Correctly labeling the emotion and learning the reason it’s there is a necessary step towards lasting growth and comfort. This process is often done alone or with the help of a close friend. Occasionally we all get stuck and are unsure of the way forward. In these cases, a skilled counselor can help you through these steps and will help you develop strategies for addressing the root issues and calming the uncomfortable emotions.
If you would like to speak to our counselor about your uncomfortable emotions, please use this link to schedule a free consultation phone call.
Which troubling emotion causes you the most discomfort?
Which of the two common unhealthy approaches to uncomfortable emotions do you use most?
How would you describe the healthy method of dealing with uncomfortable emotions?
Which uncomfortable emotion would you like to explore first?