No one would include facing their darkest emotions in a day of pampering, but researchers say doing that is the key to our happiness. Often, our emotions in the darkest times of our lives are something we might try to avoid dealing with in favor of the lighter moments, but we can’t always have sunshine and flowers. Here is the research behind why you can’t be happy until you get to know your darkest emotions a little better.
Healing our darkest emotions to heal our bodies
The body may store our darkest emotions as pain locations throughout the body. Facing our negative emotions may help release stored emotional and physical pain from the body. In previous articles, we have explored acupressure and tapping energy meridians on the body to release any stored negative emotions, which can lead us to feel actual physical pain.
Learning about our hidden negative emotions may help us to find relief from physical joint pain, headaches, muscle tension, and many other ailments that could be a result of suppressed or blocked emotions.
How to manage your darkest emotions
Coping is when we take action under stress and a lack of coping is when we fail to act under stress. Emotion regulation is what we do to try to work through our negative emotions. Emotion regulation is different from coping in that it can be either involuntary responses that our body has or an intentional action that we make.
Research in the Australian journal of Psychology looked at coping with our darkest emotions and how we try to manage them when we have these deep uncomfortable feelings. They found three emotion regulation skills to help us manage these disturbing feelings; acceptance, cognitive distancing, and cognitive change.
Acceptance training exercises help people be aware of emotions, physical sensations, and cognitive sensations. Cognitive distancing is taught through perspective taking, for example, seeing the events as a narrator of your story would. The cognitive change component of the training encourages a “self-compassionate” perspective by imagining that you are telling a very caring person about your darkest thoughts and feelings. You can also use the imaginary listener to speak to you and remind you of your strengths and coping abilities.
How to accept your darkest emotions
When we fear our emotional state or judge it to be unacceptable, we reject a part of ourselves. Our emotions are a primal part of us. The way our bodies feel as we flush with shame after an embarrassing incident may not be within our control. Instead of accepting the physiological response of blushing in embarrassment, we tend to dissociate from this emotion because it has negative associations that make us feel bad. However, researchers now believe that denial of our negative emotions prevents us from being happy.
UC Berkeley researchers studied the hypothesis that acceptance of our darkest emotions is linked with greater psychological health because acceptance helps keep us from reacting to negative mental experiences. Accepting negative emotional states prevents them being labeled as negative. We accept them for what they are without judging them to be good or bad. The research found that by practicing acceptance of our darkest emotions, we experience a decrease in the bad associations that we have with those emotions and improve our psychological health.
People who are truly happy may habitually accept their emotions and thoughts without judging them. This process is called habitual acceptance. Acknowledging that we have had a negative or dark emotion like fear, anger, jealousy, resentment, frustration, revulsion, etc. is the first part of acceptance. We are not capable of always thinking or feeling positive emotions like joy. Acceptance that we are human and that we sometimes feel dark emotions is the way to face them so that we can be happy.
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Berkeley study The Psychological Health Benefits of Accepting Negative Emotions and Thoughts: Laboratory, Diary, and Longitudinal Evidence.