Did you know that our emotions serve to drive rapid behavior?
"Positive" emotions (excitement, joy, attraction, pride, amusement) motivate approach behaviors, are rewarding, and reinforce behaviors. "Negative" or threat-related emotions (fear, anxiety, guilt, shame, disgust, hurt, anger, jealousy, sadness) are part of the body’s alarm system and arise when our brain perceives a threat to our fundamental goals or needs or the well-being of loved ones. "Negative" feelings also mobilize the body for action, but they motivate avoidance behavior: efforts aimed at escaping, reducing, fighting, or controlling the threat and the associated feelings.
We are actually socialized to AVOID our feelings!
“Look on the bright side!” (don’t be sad)
“You need to be strong!” (don’t cry)
“Stop, you're making me feel guilty!” (don’t be upset with me)
Different cultures and social groups (including families) have implicit and explicit “rules” about which feelings are acceptable, and which ones are not. Suppressing negative emotions is often associated with strength, while expressing them is often equated with weakness.
What's Wrong With Avoiding?
If you don’t know how to stay with uncomfortable emotions and therefore must give in to that short-term drive toward or away, there is no opportunity to consider how you want to act in a situation. You won’t have that emotion-muscle to move toward meaningful goals in the face of difficult feelings. The resistance takes up much of our attention and energy, while the core issues remain. As we say in the trade: what you resist persists. Another problem is that our initial feelings are based on our quick interpretation of the situation, which isn’t very reliable. If you simply obey the feeling, you may be acting on faulty information.
So now what?
Stay tuned for Part 2 next Friday!