Why and How to Feel Emotions That You Want to Avoid

By Nicholette Leanza, LPCC-S

We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions. – Brené Brown


Emotions help color our lives. Ones that we may consider positive, like happiness and excitement, can feel great. But the ones that we deem uncomfortable, like sadness and anxiety, can be the ones we desperately want to avoid.

Some examples of how we avoid emotions include mindlessly scrolling on our phone when we may be stressed about something or using alcohol as a way to numb our hurt feelings after a breakup. Ironically, we never actually escape our emotions because squelching them doesn’t actually make them stop. They still simmer inside you causing more pain.

Research tells us that suppressing our emotions can actually harm our mental health and wellbeing so it’s important to allow your feelings to come through and feel them. How do you truly feel your emotions? Here are some tips:

Recognize them.

The first step is to recognize that your feelings are present. Simply naming them enables you to acknowledge that they are present such as ‘I feel sad’ or ‘I feel anxious.’ Also observing your thoughts can help you identify what you may be feeling. For example, worrisome thoughts give birth to stress and anxiety so if you are not sure what you are feeling, examine your thoughts.

Accept them.

Accepting an emotion means that you are present with it. You allow the feelings or sensations to come forward and resist the urge to push them away. Observe how they manifest in your body. Are your shoulders and neck tense? Is your belly feeling upset? Just sit with the emotion for a moment and the feelings in your body. Give yourself permission to feel. Don’t be so quick to brush aside uncomfortable emotions because those feelings may be the guide to help you make a decision or take appropriate action in a situation.

Consider if they are helpful or not.

Ponder whether your emotions are meaningful and productive. Emotions can give us signals and cues to what we may be needing to pay attention to in our lives. For example, you wouldn’t ignore a low fuel light in your car so look at your emotions in a similar vein. Ask yourself if what you are feeling helps you take effective action to improve your life? If not, it may be necessary to let go of the emotion.

In essence, we live more deeply when we take the time to truly feel our emotions. Our feelings aren’t velociraptors that we need to run from, they’re just feelings and they aren’t good or bad, they just are. If we can learn from our emotions and recognize what they may be saying, then they can become a meaningful part of our life’s journey.

Authored By 

LifeStance Health
LifeStance Health

LifeStance is a mental healthcare company focused on providing evidence-based, medically driven treatment services for children, adolescents, and adults.