I’ve always been one to avoid, at any cost, anything I didn’t want to feel. My therapist would tell me that it wasn’t wise, that eventually there would come a time where I couldn’t avoid it and I’d be so out of practice I wouldn’t know what to do. So do you want to know what happened when the time came? I, like practically every other avoider, got blackout drunk at a party and probably made a fool of myself. No one has filled me in on those nine hours of lost time, so it probably wasn’t very funny.
I found out my dad has cancer that day. That kind of sadness is not something you can easily avoid. I don’t want to take substances I use purely for recreation and use them to numb feelings. That, my friend, is a fast track to addiction. I can’t just push away the sadness that comes with the very real possibility that my dad is not going to be around for much longer. I am unequipped on how to handle this.
Because I open up easier to strangers on the internet than my own family or friends, how do you deal with negative emotions?
I personally zoom out of the situation. I try to see things from an expanded view instead of zoomed into my problems. First I start by imagining situations that could be worse. We have so many movies about death, violence, and pain that it is not hard to put myself in the place of one of these people and imagine my life being a whole lot worse. Sometimes I believe that is the reason for all the maladies that befall people in the world. It is for other’s to watch and say “Wow, I truly am blessed and lucky to not be in that situation”. Some might say that is callous and yet I feel as though it is a form of empathy. Most people sitting on their deathbed with cancer would give anything to have a life unafflicted by pain and disease. My life is motivated because in my mind, I have almost died a hundred deaths, but my wish for life came true and now I am here, happy and healthy.
By the way: I also feel that it is easier to open up to strangers. I read a book called Quiet by Susan Cain that explained this to be a common trait of introverts. Remember that you are not alone. Life can be worse, life can be better but at the end of the day we are all in the same boat of waves that go up into happiness and sometimes go down into sadness.
I find it hard to give general advice on these matters as it is a very personal road and personal battle one needs to go through. I understand your tough times and the easy way out in substances. Been there, done that. Actually from time to time I still do, and substances is a term I use very broadly (e.g. it can be ‘being lost in movies’). Any type of activity that makes me ‘run’ away’ from myself at that very moment.
I have found many things to be very beneficial and helpful for me and all seemed to have come at the right time. Meditation, travelling, writing in a journal, therapy, ayahuasca, religion, God, friends and other relationships etc.
The one answer I found for how to deal with negative emotions, or any type of emotions, is to let them overcome you, stop trying to control what is happening and just embrace it. Try to understand it, try to feel how it feels in your body, write about it, discuss it with somebody, explore where it is coming from, why it is coming and what kind of answers you can get from it. I try to apply the attitude to learn from anything that happen in my life. Grow, evolve, change. How can this situation, this emotions, this experience, help me to proceed in life? What can I learn from it? What can I do ‘better’ next time?
I hope this very basic explanation will be of some help to you.
Perhaps this article can help you: Focus on the ‘Negative’: Exploring Emotions as a Spiritual Experience
I think the easiest way to let those things come up and out, or to learn to sit with them if they can’t be released is to meditate on it through some physical activity, whether it be exercise or just writing. It’s not good to let them sit and rot inside you. It’s easier for me to lighten them if I use movement.
There is a book I’ve been reading called Healing Back Pain, where a rehab physician (not a psychotherapist) describes how he was able to cure 10+ years of chronic back pain in several people by treating it as repressed emotion. He says that when confronted with “unacceptable” emotions, the brain creates physical pain to distract from the discomfort of things like sorrow, rage, and embarrassments. Even if your scans have degenerated discs, bone spurs, scoliosis etc. the pain is very rarely a structural issue and most often a result of not allowing yourself to feel the unacceptable emotions. It doesn’t just apply to back pain but that was his expertise. I share this because sooner or later I believe we are forced to sit with our pain, and I think it is better to confront it in the emotional body than to have to be physically debilitated and quite literally stuck in them.
I’m the same way. All my life I suppressed any negative thoughts or feelings that came in to my head. But, then everything would build up and I would explode with irrational emotions and actions.
Here’s a metaphor I made up when I was being self-reflective and meditating on how I deal with negative thoughts and emotions: I pictured a bunch of wild pigs running around at my feet. They are the negative thoughts. I would be anxious and stressed that there were so many pigs- there was no way I’d be able to tackle them all (overcome all of my adversities and negative emotions). So I realized in this metaphor, to just focus on one pig and then the anxiety will be lessened. Catch just one pig. Focus on just one thought. Let yourself really think about it, don’t be scared. Take the problem head-on, analyze it, manage your emotions about it, really meditate on it until you feel better. Then, on to the next pig.
Pig by pig, you can address your issues in a healthy way. One problem at a time, you can do it, stay positive, develop yourself, and strive to be the best you you can be.
I guess the best way to describe how I deal with emotions is to just become aware that I’m feeling them. When you think about it, any kind of emotion at all is really quite weird. Sadness, joy, stress, it all become manageable when I realize I’m feeling them. I’m not saying that sadness is bad our that I don’t feel sadness, it’s just that I find sadness interesting by the mere fact that I’m experiencing it.