When I notice how the general perception of negative emotions is, and how is being dealt with them, I cannot help but wonder. It seems, generally speaking that we do not want to feel bad, and therefore get away from any negativity as soon as possible. However, I believe that even though we like to feel good, it is good to feel bad.
I was inspired by reading Jordan Peterson’s second book Twelve Rules for Life – An Antidote to Chaos. In there, he argues to deal with whatever troubles you rather than running away from it. He puts this into perspective with archetypal stories that tale about heroes, fighting the devil, going through hell, and conquering the underworld. These themes occur in a variety of stories ranging from the Bible to Pinocchio. If you realize the metaphorical power of these stories you can learn from them and apply them. If you want to be your own hero and feel strong, content, and respected, you have to go through the underworld, conquer whatever is there, to live as a victor ever after. Or in short, deal with your issues and feel bad. Otherwise there is no way to feel good.
However extensive the ways to (not) deal with whatever troubles you, I believe there is an important thing to note beforehand. We all like to feel good. The crux is though that we perceive feeling good, as something good, and feeling bad, as something bad. The difference in value ascribed to certain emotions results in that we do not value a situation for what it is when we do not feel well.
Pain is bad, being angry is bad, crying is perceived as weakness, sadness is unlikable, complaining makes you a drag, and being hurt is an insult to humanity. This forces every single one of us into a straight jacket. Luckily though, there is comfort food, the doctor that tells you you don’t need to feel pain (and prescribes the drugs to resolve it), movies to make you laugh, computer games to forget your real existence, and your best friend telling you to take it easy.
There is always someone or something to help you steer clear of whatever produces
negative emotions. However, the labeling of emotions is unjust. Without feeling bad, there is no way to know what feeling good is. Therefore, it does not serve anyone to run away from that what makes you experience negative emotions. It complicates relationships, it clouds your judgement, and it diminishes learning opportunities.
Therefore, I think pain is good because your body is transmitting important information. Fighting with that person you profoundly dislike is good as well, because not every learning experience is accompanied by a serotonin rush. Then, feeling sad about the passing of a family member is good, because it forces you to process and reorganize your perception of reality without that person. And finally, being bullied is good, because there is plenty more in the world that doesn’t look like a bully, but can provoke similar feelings.
Emotions are productions of our subconscious and on first sight seem like the most truthful experiences at whatever moment they occur. Nevertheless, they often are the result of a formula involving a lot of factors, and their role depends on the context they occur in. Where it might first seem that you are responding to something that happens to you now, it might just be that it is the result of what happened two years ago. Emotions are important and useful, but do not necessarily need to dictate what you do next.
On top of this all, to stop valuing negative emotions as something bad will diminish their negative influence. If you have the courage to concentrate on your pain with a calm mind, instead of trying to distract yourself, you will notice its intensity going down. I tried this myself, to focus on my knee pain, instead of trying to forget it. It works phenomenally because I did what my body required me to do. To pay attention. At the same time it provoked a terminator-like-confidence inside of me, realizing that there is no need for emotional avoidance and how well I can function with pain. This holds true for other emotions as well, ignoring them will only make their voice stronger.
When I hold ground and question what arises inside of me, I could actually figure this out. If I try to put every negative emotion away though, stuff get’s messy. There is this voice in the back of my head calling for attention, at the same time I am trying to pretend everything is fine. If I would just take it on, or as Jordan Peterson says in his book: “stand up straight with your shoulders back”, it won’t be nice to begin with, but it will balance out after.
Stand up straight with your shoulders back.
Whatever I run away from, be it the police, learning for an exam, or negative emotions, its calling will only get stronger, because it needs attention. Now.
12 Rules for Life – An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan Peterson
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy by S. Hayes, K. Strosahl, K. Wilson.