Part 1 of the What Does This Have To Do With Wellness? series.
Some of you might be wondering, why do I write so much about negative emotions? What do unhappy feelings have to do with wellness?
I have received some criticism as well as some honest questioning as to why I often write about so-called “negative” emotions. I have been told that because I write about these feelings my content can sometimes be depressing or a downer. So, I’d like to explain why I think negative emotions are so important for wellness.
When people are talking about the “negative” emotions I write about, they are usually referring to feelings like sadness, grief & loss, depression, anxiety, anger, stress, and burn-out.
I broadly reject the notion of “negative” emotions. While these feelings are negative in the sense that they are unpleasant to feel, calling them “negative” can make it seem as if they are unproductive, unworthwhile, even unimportant. Despite being unpleasant to experience, I believe these emotions are an inevitable and an essential part of a balanced life. In this sense, they aren’t truly negative, they simply are.
Imagine how differently we might experience these emotions if we didn’t think of them as inherently negative, if we just experienced them as they were and were open to the possibility of their necessity. Is it possible that we even make these feelings worse than they are by refusing or attempting to dismiss them?
Obviously, we want to limit the amount of these emotions that we experience because they are painful, and we hope to create a life where we don’t experience them often, I’m not arguing otherwise. But I think we need to remove, as much as possible, the fear and rejection of them. A life fully lived requires positive and “negative” emotions, and we need to embrace them when they come along rather than fight them.
Again, that’s not to say that we allow them to overtake our lives but just that we don’t create stigma around feeling these feelings and expressing them. We don’t need to be happy 100% of the time and in fact if we were it might mean that we lack the depth of emotional understanding to fully feel any emotions including the positive ones.
We can’t run away from negative feelings and they will often go away quicker and take less of our energy if we just face them. Without veering into toxic positivity (you can read what I think about that here) , we can generate important conclusions and life lessons from exploring our “negative” feelings instead of hiding from them.
I write about these “negative” emotions because I think there is too much fear and stigma surrounding them. And, I think that fear prevents us from exploring those emotions in order to attain a deeper understanding of ourselves, our personal lives, and the larger world around us. Our negative emotions can tell us a lot of important information.
For a concrete example of how these “negative” emotions are important we can look at loss. When we lose someone we love we are often overwhelmed by sadness, anger, and loss. It can be tempting to try not to feel those feelings or hope they will just go away. If we allow ourselves to feel that deep pain, we may eventually ask “what is the point of all this pain?”. And if we allow ourselves to keep exploring despite the pain, we may realize that the pain and loss we are feeling can serve as a reminder to live presently, to take as many opportunities as we can to be in relationship with those we love, and ultimately shows us just how much we are able to profoundly love others. And of course, this exploration helps with creating closure which means we are able to move forward and love again (for more posts on grief: What the Hell is Grief Anyway? and Positivity Won’t Erase Your Grief).
So if they aren’t negative, why do we fear these emotions? Where does this stigma stem from? We may fear them because they are tumultuous and uncomfortable but not only do we fear experiencing them but we are shamed for expressing them, even warned not to burden others with them. The importance of discussing “negative” emotions is not limited to our individual mental health and wellness, but also impacts the wellbeing of our society.
Our capitalist and productivity obsessed culture either wants us to be happy enough to keep grinding away without questioning, or to deal with our negative emotions by ourselves mostly through consumption. The denial of “negative” emotions can also silence those who are marginalized by denying their lived experiences and feelings. If they are not allowed to openly and honestly express their “negative” emotions, how can we hope to bring about change for them through activism? For activism to be possible, we must explore and understand our emotions, so that we may share them in order for others to empathize with us.
When we aren’t allowed to express our “negative” emotions, it makes us complacent, less critical, and less likely to work toward important change because we don’t feel obligated or motivated. Because part of what motivates us to fight for change is our desire to avoid or eliminate unpleasant experiences. If we don’t recognize our emotions and pretend they aren’t happening, we won’t do anything to change them. Add onto that social shame and stigmatization, and we don’t feel supported in our fight either.
You can see in the questions and criticisms of these posts that there is a fear, rejection, even a loathing of “negative” emotions. And that’s not entirely their fault, it’s a product of the world that we are living in. But we can work to change that.
We all have to talk about our “negative” emotions in order to make positive changes in the in our daily lives and in the world around us. That is why “negative” emotions are important for wellness, and why I won’t stop writing about them. It’s too important.
Come back next week for part 2 of the What Does This Have To Do With Wellness series where I’ll be talking about self-care!