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3 Principles of Emotional Health – Use With Counseling
Whether you are in counseling or not, here is how to deal with emotions right. If you have emotions that are difficult to handle, consider the following ideas. As you follow these principles, you will start to become more emotionally – and relationally – healthy. These steps are a good companion to couples and individual therapy. You can use these principles as you participate in counseling for anxiety, depression, pornography or marriage problems.
These three principles are the basis for Emotions 101 (Related Article: Emotions 101). In other words, these principles have to be true if the three steps of emotions 101 will work (Recognize, Feel, Cope).
So let’s review them and see how they fit for you.
A. Emotions Matter
Simply put, emotions matter. You have had experiences in life that have taught you the importance of emotions. And you have also had others teach you that emotions do not matter. They might not teach you directly by what they say, but they can certainly teach you through what they are not talking about – their emotions.
When others say to you, ‘Be strong and stop crying’, recognize that this is an unhealthy way to deal with your emotions. They are teaching you that you are strong if you do not feel and that you are weak if you do feel. This is incorrect and unhealthy. It’s backwards!
Actually, you are strong if you feel. It takes a lot of strength and courage to feel your emotions. No doubt it’s hard to do and can be scary. It takes courage and strength to pick up your emotions instead of avoiding them. If you want to be emotionally healthy, believe that emotions matter. Sometimes counseling helps solidify this belief.
Imagine you just found out your spouse has been cheating on you (a common problem couples bring to marriage counseling). What emotions might surface? Hurt, fear, confusion, panic, sadness, frustration? In the moment that these emotions arrive, the hurt, for example, that comes is big. It’s painful. It would be easier to use anger, church, work or something else to cover up hurt so you don’t have to feel it, right (Related Articles: Primary Versus Secondary Emotions and Anger Is A Secondary Emotion)? It’s harder to feel it because it is so heavy.
Feeling your hurt emotion helps you build strength. It takes courage and work to pick it up. It also puts you in a position to do something healthy with it. When you pick it up you can then cope with, instead of merely avoid your emotions (Related Article: Coping Or Avoiding: Why Knowing The Difference Matters).
B. Emotions Are Not ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’
There is no such thing as a good or a bad emotion. No need to place a value on what you feel. There is a problem with calling an emotion ‘good’ or ‘bad’. When you call an emotion ‘bad’ you start acting in unhealthy ways. You subsequently try to not feel your feelings at this point because you think its wrong to feel. You think that you need to do all you can to stop yourself from feeling.
And, subsequently, this creates other problems. You then also might think you are ‘bad’ because you can’t get rid of that emotion. This causes shame and damages your self-esteem (Related Article: Shame Vs Guilt and How To Improve Your Self-Esteem Through Self Talk). These are all unhealthy and unfair ways to go about emoting.
So, instead of labeling emotions as good or bad, let’s call them comfortable or uncomfortable. Feeling sad is not bad, but rather it’s uncomfortable. Right? It’s ok to not want to feel an emotion. Especially if it’s uncomfortable. However, if this is the case, then call it what it is: uncomfortable. This allows you to still feel it and not bring shame or avoidance in your life. You already have enough difficulty, no need to add those things to your list.
Let’s say that you just received a long list of things to do before your spouses family party this weekend (Related Article: Relationship Problems – In-Laws). You might feel overwhelmed. Instead of saying, ‘I shouldn’t feel overwhelmed because it’s bad and ungrateful. I’m a bad spouse for feeling this way’. You could say, ‘I feel overwhelmed. It’s uncomfortable and I’m going to work through it’.
By approaching your overwhelmed feelings in this way, you will be able to be more effective. Instead of dwelling on the fact that you aren’t a good spouse in your family for feeling this in the first place. Or that it’s bad to feel overwhelmed when it comes to helping, Recognize that it’s uncomfortable and then embrace it.
C. You Choose What To Do With Your Emotions
We do not choose what we feel, we choose what we do with what we feel. The fact that an emotion is present is not up to us. However, we do choose what we do with that feeling when it shows up. That is what we have control over. Focus on what you have control over, instead of what you can’t control. This will save you time and heartache.
I recently saw a woman wearing a shirt that says, ‘Choose Happiness’ – as if it were that easy. As if all you have to do is choose to be happy and you will be happy. If that were the case, I don’t think anyone would be sad. Would you ever choose to be sad? Probably not. It’s uncomfortable and undesirable.
So what happens, then, when you try to ‘choose happiness’ and you are still sad? You probably will start to think you are broken. You could also think something is wrong with you because ‘choosing happiness’ did not work.
This simply is not fair to yourself as a human with a wide range of emotions. Let yourself experience and express all your feelings. Without that sadness, you would not know what happiness is.
In counseling, I often hear about uncomfortable emotions. Clients ask me to give them a list of things to do so that they can ‘deal’ with them. What most of them are asking is, ‘How do I avoid this emotion?’, rather than, ‘How do I pick it up and cope with it?’. So, if you are feeling hurt, then feel hurt. Let yourself cry rather than trying to make yourself not feel hurt. The former will actually get you somewhere. After crying about it, you might be able to let it go to some degree.
Counseling Can Help You Deal With Emotions
Couples, individuals and families in counseling can build their emotional capacity through these principles (Related Article: Build Your Emotional Capacity). Sometimes healthy principles you learn are hard to apply. A competent, Utah therapist can help you improve yourself and your relationships.