Do you know what your ‘go to’ is when difficult feelings such as guilt or anger come up?
The late Dr. Hawkins, a psychiatrist and spiritual teacher, highlights the 3 major ways we handle negative feelings: suppression/repression, expression, and escape. Spoiler alert: none of these are advisable.
Having negative feelings isn’t the problem.It is natural and normal to have ALL feelings. What matters is what we do with them, how we deal with them.
The three major ways we deal with feelings
Suppression is conscious and repression is unconscious. Another way of putting it is that we push our feelings down and out of our awareness. We do this because we don’t know what to do with our feelings. Often, people have feelings about their feelings. For example, we may feel guilty about feeling frustrated or angry. To keep these feelings out of our awareness, we either deny them (“What, me angry?”) or project them onto others (“You are so angry all the time…”).
Suppression and repression come at a cost: irritability, mood swings, muscle tensions (especially neck and back), headaches, and insomnia to list just a few.
Expression is when we verbalize, vent, or express our feelings in body language. It is commonly believed that the expression of negative feelings frees us from our feelings. However, when we express a feeling, the feeling tends to get bigger as we are giving the feeling greater energy. There are times of course when expression is exactly what is called for, for example, when you have a history of never speaking up for yourself. However, there can be a downside to expression. When we dump our negative feelings on others, it can be experienced as an attack and result in the breakdown of communication and the relationship itself.
Escape is about avoidance of feelings. Welcome to the world of alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, workaholism, the entertainment industry, texting, shopping, gambling, excessive exercising, etc. There really is an endless list of activities we can engage in to keep our feelings at bay. Escapism is both stressful and an ineffective way of dealing with feelings.
Do you recognize yourself in any of these descriptions? No judgement please. Self awareness is key to making change. If you want more effective ways to deal with your feelings, check out 2 awesome techniques to let go of negative feelings.