Emotional Wellbeing – Issue 3
Emotional Rigidity vs. Emotional Agility
There has been a lot of attention given recently in the media to “bad emotions” and why it’s important to eliminate them from our lives. “Stay positive” we hear incessantly, leading us to believe if we are anything but, then we are failing. The fact is, there is no such thing as a bad emotion. All our emotions serve a purpose; they alert us to our environment, heighten our awareness, and elicit an appropriate response. Therefore, they are good and we need them…allof them.
Perhaps what is meant by these sweeping statements is that it is how we react to our emotions that can be “good” or “bad” or helpful or not. When we are rigid with our responses to our emotions i.e. allowing ourselves to only experience the “good” ones, we tend to then brood over our “bad” feelings; instead of allowing them to run their course we stay stuck inside our head or become hooked on buying into negativity on social media for example. Or we bottle up the emotions we deem bad, paying attention to only those considered legitimate (or good). When we do this we judge ourselves and we often inadvertently shame others into supressing their emotions too.
We have a right to how we are feeling whatever that may be; anger, joy, grief, pride, inadequacy. Labelling them good or bad is incomplete and leads to emotional rigidity as opposed to emotional agility. Pushing troubling emotions to the side can actually cause us to focus on it more. Psychologists refer to this as amplification. Instead we need to develop skills to deal with the world as it is not how we want it to be.
Try and label your feelings; emotions are data not directives, we own them not the other way around. Acknowledge them, listen to what they are really saying to you, e.g. “you are intensely sad” of course you are, you have suffered a loss and need to give yourself time. Do you need to reach out to someone, do you need to do something nice for yourself? “You are angry” of course you are, you were treated unfairly, do you need to accept it, is it something you can sort out when you are calm? “You are jealous” of course you are, the role you wanted in the play went to your friend. Do you need time to wallow and then congratulate your friend, do you need to remind yourself how hard you worked and how talented you are? “You are feeling stressed”, of course you are, you have exams looming. Do you need to organise your time, do you need to add some extra study time into your day, do you need to remind yourself this stress is getting you ready and it will not last forever?
We must experience all of our emotions even the unpleasant ones. Labelling emotions as good or bad shuts down our curiosity. It makes us simply not want to feel the “bad” emotions which interferes with the human experience. So feel allyour emotions, notice them, validate them, listen to them. Only then will you be able to control your response, be proactive, gain self-awareness, and build emotional agility and resilience.
Talk to the people who love you about how you are feeling, it often gives you some perspective and makes things clearer and more manageable in your mind. You can also refer to the attached list of support services. Either way, if you need to, reach out. Enjoy a restful and peaceful break.