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Do you ever feel pressure to feel good when you really don’t? Often we are encouraged to put on a happy face and be positive even when it’s the last thing we want to do. A recent study from the UC Berkley found that embracing your darker moods can make you feel better in the long run. The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, looked at the link between emotional acceptance and psychological health. The researchers found that when we accept our negative moods it actually defuses them. The authors speculated that having a self-accepting attitude toward negative emotions prevents out sized attention to them or excessive judgement about them from piling up. That which we resist, persists. When we allow the dark feelings to run their course and don’t feel bad about it, we have a better response.
Yet many of us would rather suppress, project, or deny our feelings at all cost. We use multiple outlets, many of them destructive, to avoid dealing with our emotional pain. Sometimes we use positive outlets to distract from our negative feelings such as work, exercise, or care taking others, but the bad feelings don’t go away. Time alone does not heal all wounds. The study above reaffirms that running from our bad feelings or trying to fake them only make things worse. Instead we need to acknowledge our emotional pain and allow it to flow through us. What does that look like?
One way to address our emotional pain is through mindfulness, which is being aware of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and environment without judgement but instead focusing on the present. Mindfulness allows us to stay focused on our surroundings and acceptance of the good or the bad as we experience it. Certainly, another way is to share our negative feelings selectively with people who we love and trust. Sometimes writing about our feelings either in a free-floating way or directly to a person can also be helpful. When we accept our bad moods or attitude it enables us to appreciate our positive experiences too. Remember the movie “Inside Out” when the Joy character wanted to eliminate the Sadness character, but eventually realized her value? Those who suppress negative emotions often inadvertently suppress positive ones too. Allow yourself to feel the full range of emotions and you’ll experience a fuller life. Life is filled with highs and lows, but how you handle these experiences determines the outcome.