Dark emotions aren’t always bad

When you get into fixing yourself it can get kind of sticky. Denial is easy. Telling yourself the truth is difficult. And who hasn’t been part of Procrastinators Anonymous? (Tonight’s meeting is postponed.)

In a recent article we mentioned how important it is to change your thinking from “what is wrong with me” to “why is this happening to me.” Let’s explore this a little deeper.

In her article, “The Wisdom of Dark Emotions,” Miriam Greenspan gives us a key to take us through another door. Greenspan has been a psychotherapist for more than 30 years. She draws on mindfulness and the Four Noble Truths: 1.) the truth of suffering; 2.) the truth of origin; 3.) the truth of cessation of suffering and, 4.) the truth of the way leading to cessation of suffering.

What, you ask, does all of that mean? Greenspan explains. Psychology tells us to let go of the past, live in the present moment and just move on. Greenspan calls this “emotion-phobia.” Wikipedia defines emotion-phobia as “pervasive fear and reflexive avoidance of difficult emotions in oneself and/or others. This is accompanied by a set of unquestioned normative beliefs about the “negativity of painful feelings.”

Grief, fear and despair are viable emotions we need to experience and acknowledge. She says grief connects us to life. “What connects us breaks our hearts.”

Fear “alerts us to protect and sustain life.”

Despair lets us go through the grief associated with loss. We look at the losses and broaden our understanding of the meaning of life and go to work on healing our broken souls. But when we know how to listen to these emotions we begin the healing journey. When we get angry, become physically ill because of inner issues or have an anxiety disorder, we are not listening to the dark (not bad) emotions properly. We can’t even name or feel the fears.

Greenspan says we need to experience the dark emotions fully, not avoid them. “Aborted dark emotions are at the root of these characteristic psychological disorders of our time.” The problem, she says, is “our inability to bear them mindfully.”

We should pay attention to what our grief is saying to us, listen to it, and let it be. Let it be rather than letting it go. The end results should be that we develop a deep appreciation for life, courage to be vulnerable and find a “resilient faith in life.” By finding hope in despair and turning your focus from self to helping others, you should find healing.

Mary Colier, a psychotherapist and interfaith minister, in her article, “Overcoming Your Fear of Feelings” at psychologytoday.com, writes, “In this culture we are afraid of feelings that are not happy, and conditioned to believe that feeling anything other than pleasure will prevent us from being able to go to work, live a normal life, or take care of ourselves…”

Colier says everyone needs to learn “how to be with and soothe” the difficult feelings everyone has. Instead of learning to feel those difficult feelings we learn to ignore them, that the dark feelings will hurt us somehow when the fact is that feeling those feelings still finds us strong, not weak. We find more energy and enjoy life.

Says Colier, “We are at our most content and healthy when we give ourselves the blessing that it is to relax into what we actually feel, and live, in our truth. Allowing ourselves to sit with our feelings, the ones we like and the ones we don’t, does not only not conflict with taking care of ourselves and conducting a real life – it is, in truth, our best means for taking care of ourselves and the very real essence of a real life.”

Addiction has no address, but Family Recovery Center does. For more information about the education, prevention and treatment programs for substance abuse and related behavioral issues, contact the agency at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468; or e-mail, info@familyrecovery.org. FRC is funded, in part, by the Ohio Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services (OhioMHAS).