Embracing Our Negative Emotions
Today we cannot go too far into the world of wellness without running into the whole “be happy” lifestyle exercises. It is absolutely true that being happy will produce a better outcome to situations we find ourselves. Being happy is probably the goal of life after all. But the big question behind that is “What is happy?” What does it mean to be happy?
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Lessons from an Alcoholic
As an alcoholic, I know I used to define being happy as being drunk. Was that true? I would argue that, yes, it was true at the time. Allowing myself to be “happy” at that time allowed me to to get sober all those years ago and continue to be happy by growing and changing day after day.
There was a time, while I was still drinking, that I was not happy being drunk but I still defined myself as a drinker. This was a pivotal part of my development. I also went through this years later as a smoker. In both instances I was proceeding to do something I did not want to be doing any longer. I knew I did not want to do it.
But I continued to define myself as someone who was both a smoker and drinker even though I knew I did not want to continue being those things. I was reluctant to accept my need to take action and allow a natural change to occur. We can call this addiction, but really it was fear. Yes I am an addict and I have struggled with that all my life and still do but what I struggle with most is fear. Fear to accept more responsibility for myself and my world. When I was faced with no longer drinking or smoking – those are just two of a myriad of examples I can give – I was afraid to redefine myself as a person who did not do those things.
The reality was that I had already changed and it was obvious inside of me because there was sadness, anger and frustration. I continued to attempt to “be happy” by continuing to drink, which was how I had previously defined being happy. This is an obvious example of how most of our growth and shifting happiness will not be so dramatic. In the cases of my drinking and smoking, I was not happy doing these activities. I was attempting to justify old definitions of myself by engaging in these things with the goal of finding what was no longer there. For alcohol it took almost 5 years to learn and change, many years later with cigarettes. I smoked for a year without gaining a moment of joy before finally quitting.
Recognize the Negative in Order to Grow
It was important for me during that time to embrace that I was not happy. I was actually sad and angry at myself every day. Shame, was key to my growth as well. It is not all cut and dry. Many paths open themselves up to us through negative thought. Growth is not something that happens without a bit of struggle. Of course, we do not want, or even need, to stay in a state of sadness for long in order to grow, but we may be doing ourselves an enormous disservice by not allowing sadness a voice within our lives. Sadness, and all the other negative reactions we may be having, is a sign of imbalance which is an opportunity to grow and growing is what we are meant to be doing.
That is all easy. The hard part of this is knowing when we are having a negative emotion, how to embrace it and grow to learn its meaning and what is to be learned. Everyone is different so there is no simple answer to this. With drugs and alcohol for instance, it is easy as these things close you off to the amazing magic you possess, not always while you are using them, but sometimes they open you up to the possibilities. But after using, your consciousness will restrict if you do not stretch it properly.
The lessons we as individuals need to learn lie in our emotions. Happiness or joy have lessons as well, the most important lessons we can learn come from there actually. When what once made us happy no longer brings us bliss there is a learning opportunity, but what we will learn is not in the act, person or thing that once brought us happiness. We have to learn about ourselves, about who we are today and how we have changed.
Application in Relationships
I am inspired to address relationships here. I have found so many people blame relationships for changing, but it is the people in the relationships that change. That is obvious, but we need to also understand that what we are talking about is the relationship is no longer making one or both of the people in it happy. That is the change.
Again it is not the relationship that changed and changing the relationship will not bring happiness. Sadness does not exist in the relationship just as sadness did not exist in alcohol for me when I was a drunk. That sadness was in me and I used alcohol to hide from it. I do not think it is a far cry to say that many people use love as a way to hide from their fears.
Relationships can be wonderful when they are unconditional but that is not something that we see too often. Conditions even exist between parents and their children to such an extent that romantic adult relationships can not be expected to exist without them. When we find ourselves in a place where we are no longer being made happy by another person the question is not about how they have changed but why we allowed them to be in control of our happiness at all. That is the point when we might want to look at what we are not offering ourselves, what we were gaining from the other person.
I often find that to be love in general. When we do find ourselves unhappy at those moments, the work is to learn how we can support ourselves better. Not in an attempt to not need or embrace our partners or family or neighbors, but to be stronger and give more love to others. When we love ourselves we cannot help but offer others more love. It is sadness, shame, anger and all the other emotions that we see today as not being helpful that actually show us how we can love ourselves more. It takes a clear head and responsibility in order to do that.
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