How to Allow Negative Emotion

A cornerstone of personal growth is learning to allow all emotions in our life. I’ve written about the balance of emotions here. We exist in a culture that is only interested in the top “happy” half of the emotional spectrum. Unfortunately, this makes us all act crazy (or think everyone else is acting crazy) because the reality is that being human means we experience the entire emotional spectrum.

What happens when we aren’t willing to allow our emotions in our lives? So. Many. Things. Let me count the ways:

  1. Overeating
  2. Overdrinking
  3. Overspending
  4. Too much Facebook
  5. Too much Netflix
  6. Over consumption of information
  7. Acting out against people
  8. Controlling other people
  9. Self judgment
  10. Judgment of others
  11. Spinning in worry and anxiety
  12. We don’t pursue our own dreams

This list is not exhaustive, but you get a good idea of the far reaching consequences of the inability to allow negative emotion to be part of our experience. These are all examples of resisting, avoiding or acting out of emotion.

How do we do it? I’m going to give you a couple different analogies.

Imagine you are in a pool and you have a beach ball. Resisting emotion is like taking the beach ball and trying to stuff it under the water. It takes all of your energy and focus to accomplish this and will inevitably happen? The beach ball will come out of the water with more force than it ever had before. Resistance to negative emotion makes it stronger. We eventually give into the emotion, meaning we lash out, eat the thing, let the ourselves spin up into a worry story, etc. Allowing the beach ball means it’s just there floating on the water. You can still do other things. You know it’s there, but it’s not taking too much of your energy and attention.

Here’s another analogy I’ve been working with that I find super helpful. Imagine you have an unwanted dinner guest that shows up at your door and demands to be let it. This is the negative emotion. This person comes in and you want them to leave, but they won’t, so you use all your energy and attention to try to push them out of the house. (Like the buffalo at the top) You can’t finish dinner, or converse with anyone or do anything else you want to do because you are busy wrestling. You can instead, imagine that you allow the person to come in, but you let them know that while they are welcome, they need to sit quietly in a chair. They are not allowed to cause a bunch of trouble. The guest is there and you are aware of them, but you can completely carry on with your life as you planned. You are not derailed by this interruption. That is allowing. Eventually, they get bored and leave.

ALL of your growth is in the work of learning how to allow negative emotion in your life. You are so worth the effort to learn how!