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How to Move Through Difficult Emotions

By Lifestance Health on June 17, 2021

By Carl Nassar, Ph.D., LPC, CIIPTS

Emotions – albeit painful at times – are easier to deal with than emotional avoidance, which is a leading cause of many psychological problems. When a person avoids feeling the magnitude of negative emotions, they come up with a temporary solution that makes them feel better. What they don’t realize, however, is that short-term comfort often leads to long-term pain.

Avoiding and Getting Stuck in Emotions

Noam Shpancer, Ph.D. explains how avoidance behavior is detrimental to many people’s lives. For example, when a person puts off feeling negative emotions, they also distance themselves from events, locations, and other people who may trigger the same feelings they’re trying to avoid. They then become captives in their own homes because they’re trying to control situations that they perceive to be uncomfortable by avoiding them, too.

The fear of a negative experience manifests into its own negative experience, Shpancer notes. It’s another reason why people must learn to deal with their emotions. Avoiding them makes it harder to cope when any stressor is introduced.

Avoidance also lengthens the period of anticipation. Anxiety is greater now because a person worries that things will be worse than they are. The mind conjures up catastrophic events that pose no real threat to the individual who is avoiding feeling an emotion.

On the other side of the spectrum, being consumed by negative emotions for great lengths of time can have negative effects on a person’s well-being. That’s exactly what many people want to avoid when they ignore their emotions. However, avoiding feelings can leave you stuck in them for longer.

How to Move Through Difficult Emotions

If you recognize that you often avoid truly feeling difficult emotions, know this: you can change. Just the fact that you’re reading this right now is evidence of the fact that you want to create positive change in your life.

Here are five steps for feeling and moving through emotions:

  1. Acknowledge that feelings are fleeting. Emotions are simply one way of telling you what is going on around you.
  2. Rather than rely on feelings alone, remember you have rational thoughts, stored knowledge, and experience to count on, too.
  3. Take the time to feel your emotions and then you can evaluate them to help you know how to behave in a situation.
  4. Once you’re able to accept that emotions are one type of information the brain receives, you’ll be able to stay put and deal with whatever feelings come up rationally.
  5. Counseling or therapy can help you come to that conclusion if you’re struggling to get there on your own.

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