Is it possible to have good emotions and bad emotions?
I was sitting with a group of extended friends (before 2020!), listening to one of them explain they had become a Positive Psychology Life Coach. “You can have sad feelings, but only one for every five positive ones”, they explained. “That way you can re-programme your brain to be happier.”
I walked away to get a drink, my internal ‘cringe alarm’ howling, something about what they said was deeply uncomfortable.
I’m not attacking anyone’s life philosophy or indeed Positive Psychology. I mention it because it started me trying to articulate what I believe about emotions. Particularly the emotions I find uncomfortable or downright intolerable. If I thought it would psychologically work for me, I would love one sad feeling for every five positive ones! But sadly this is not how I believe emotions are best managed. So a year later, here are my thoughts.
Emotions are a lot like children.
Have you ever seen a child in a shop being ignored by a parent/carer? They call out for the adult, pull on their clothes, huff and puff. If they don’t get attention after that, the crying starts, the screaming, stamping and kicking. They are now past the point of no return, impossible to soothe. The frozen aisle sounds like a war zone.
The adult with them becomes visibly flustered, their anxiety rising with the child’s. The other shoppers start to turn their heads, either in sympathy or judgement, they are getting stressed too.
Emotions are a lot like children. To grow healthily and become mature they all require attention. However, this is difficult. It is so tempting to ignore guilt, shame, jealously or anger or any of the emotions that are difficult or deemed unacceptable in society. However, like the child in the shop, if we ignore them they will find different ways to get our attention and the more we ignore them, the louder and harder to soothe they get.
No emotion is a bad emotion
To stretch the metaphor, all children matter in the same way all of our emotions matter. No emotion is a bad emotion. Nurturing all of our emotions not only keep them manageable but it also helps them, like children, mature into a more sophisticated version of themselves. This is key because the more sophisticated they are, the better we can have a stable and manageable relationship with them.
Therapy is a great way to do this. A good therapist, regardless of their discipline, will allow space in the therapy room for you to nurture those emotions that might feel difficult or are hard to pay attention to. You remain the parent, making the decisions over what is best for your young emotions, but counsellors or psychotherapists can be the teaching assistant, baby sitters, paediatricians, and support you to grow your healthy mature emotions.
Other ways could be journaling or CBT workbooks. Ultimately staying connected to all your emotions is key as they are all important, after all, they all come together to make you and every part of a human is important and worthy of growth and attention.
You can find me online @JeremySachs_.