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Dealing With Painful Emotions

We are used to doing what we can to avoid painful and unpleasant experiences. This is why we have trouble dealing with our negative emotions.

It’s easier to ignore them, deny them and suppress them. We do this by pretending, numbing them by engaging in various addictions and other compulsive behaviors, rationalizing, acting out and avoiding them by staying busy.

Emotions can be intense and overwhelming. Many of us were taught as children, feelings are a sign of weakness.

Others were allowed to express one emotion such as anger and not allowed to express others such as sadness and hurt. Some of us have difficulty identifying what we are feeling and as a result are confused by them.

For those of us who have experienced strong emotions and inappropriately expressed them, we may fear feeling them will result in doing unacceptable things.

Emotions are normal. Emotional pain is a part of life. You simply need to know how to deal with them in a healthy and helpful way. Here’s how you can deal with your painful emotions:

  1. Identify the Emotion. The major emotions are mad, sad, glad and afraid. Go from there and get more specific as you become accustomed to recognizing them.
  2. Don’t Judge Yourself. When you judge yourself as sad, stupid, pathetic or weak for feeling the way you do, you will not allow yourself to work through it to figure out what is going on. Feeling guilty doesn’t help at all.
  3. Validate the Emotion. This simply means to admit what you are feeling is real and it’s okay to be feeling that way. When you invalidate yourself, you talk yourself out of feeling the way you do.
  4. Identify Why You’re Feeling the Way You Are. Here’s where it can get tricky and you may need some help figuring out what is going on with you. You may simply be reacting to something that just happened and it’s pretty straightforward or you may be reacting because of things that happened in the past. You may also be reacting to stressors going on at the same time in your life.
  5. Stay Present With the Emotion. Avoid the temptation to do something to numb it or suppress it. When you are feeling the emotion, it allows you to work on the issues consciously and unconsciously. Feeling the pain can be the catalyst to change the situation causing it. The grief cycle has to be experienced for any type of loss. It includes shock, anger, bargaining, sadness and acceptance. If you don’t go through the cycles, you won’t reach the healthy place of acceptance. You may need to use self-talk to encourage yourself to stay with the feeling rather than pushing it away because it’s uncomfortable. It’s helpful to journal to explore what is going on. Write about what you are feeling and all the things that you think might be contributing to it. If you want to go deeper, write about other times you have felt this way and if there’s any similarity to the situations.
  6. Own the Feeling. This is important. Rather than blaming it on someone else who “made” you feel that way, own that it is your feeling regardless of what other people did. Your emotions originate within you. Other people are responsible for what they did but not how you feel.    
  7. Reason it Out. Once you have stayed with the feeling for a while, you can begin to reason it out and get some insight into why you are feeling that way to work through the emotional pain. This happens best when you can get some distance from it and be rational rather than defensive. This is where you might want to get some input from someone else you trust such as a friend, counselor, or mentor. You will learn valuable things about yourself and other people. This is one of the benefits of dealing with your painful emotions. When you suppress them, they go underground and continue to cause damage. When you deal with them, you grow in healthy ways.
  8. Choose How to Act. Emotionally intelligent people feel their emotions, identify their emotions and choose how to respond to them. Unhealthy people dump their toxic emotions on other people and do damage in the process. That isn’t good for you or your relationships.

You can deal with your painful emotions without having them overwhelm your life. The next time you are struggling, use these steps.

About The Author

This post is by Karla Downing, M.A., Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, author and founder of ChangeMyRelationship. Karla grew up in a dysfunctional family and eventually found herself in a difficult marriage. Through her personal struggles, she discovered biblical and practical principles she now teaches to others to change their lives and relationships. I’m signed up for her free relationship tips and truths and I encourage you to visit her website and sign up for them.

Do you frequently eat when you feel stressed or depressed?  Does eating a favorite comfort food like ice cream or cake make you feel safe and secure?  Have you ever filled your stomach until you’re stuffed and yet still not feel satisfied? Click here to learn three ways to control your emotional hunger.












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