“I hope your never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Livin’ might mean takin’ chances but they’re worth takin’
Lovin’ might be a mistake but it’s worth makin’
Don’t let some hellbent heart leave you bitter
When you come close to sellin’ out reconsider
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance–
I hope you dance….”
~“I Hope You Dance” by LeeAnn Womack
How do you handle awkward events or interactions? What do you do when you feel discomfort or pain? How do you react in uncomfortable situations? Have you ever stopped to think about it until now? As human beings, we prefer our lives to be pain-free, comfortable, and easy-going. But life is rarely that simple or easy. We tend to dislike and actively avoid negative emotions and situations, though. We label certain things as “bad” and try our hardest to keep from experiencing them– heartbreak, disappointing a loved one, losing a job, feeling depressed, looking foolish.
But what if they weren’t “bad” at all?
I’ve recently been reading the book “The Upside of Your Dark Side” by Kashdan & Biswas-Diener. One of the major points the authors discuss is how we deal with certain emotions that are typically viewed as negative– anger, sadness, depression, fear, etc. We tend to view them as bad feelings that should be avoided, or at least experienced in very short durations. In fact, those emotional states aren’t necessarily good or bad. It’s what we do and how we handle them that matters. “…[T]he consequence of avoiding these states is that you inadvertently stunt your growth, maturity, adventure, and meaning and purpose in life” (pp. 13).
The authors of the book propose that, instead of avoiding negative emotions, we need to explore and examine them. If emotional states are simply our inner Self’s way of communicating when something is not going well inside, then perhaps we need to stop and pay attention to what’s going on at a deeper level. Where is the emotion coming from? What happened to trigger it? Are there memories associated with it? Is it tied to another emotion? Sometimes it can help a great deal to figure out the roots of our emotions. If we can understand our feelings better, then we can start to manage them more effectively.
No, we’re not getting rid of negative emotions.
Notice I said “manage them”– not eliminate them. For example, most people typically feel anxiety and nervousness before an important exam (or board meeting or company presentation). Anxiety and nervousness are generally considered “negative” emotions. In this case, we can use that anxiety to motivate us to study harder, double check our work reports, or go the extra mile to make that presentation really terrific. The end result of that anxious emotional state could be a positive outcome because we handled it productively. The end result could also be counterproductive if, instead of being motivated, we get bogged down in feeling nervous and anxious. It’s all in how we manage the emotions, not necessarily eliminate them.
As the song lyrics suggest above, we have a choice in how we react to events in life. We can let our emotions– good and bad– get the best of us sometimes. But we always have a choice in how we respond. Take some time to explore your emotions next time you’re feeling stuck or overwhelmed.
If you need help doing that, I’m happy to assist. And if you’re curious as to how music therapy could benefit you, I’m always glad to answer questions!