Emotions like loneliness,
envy, and guilt
have an important role to play
in a happy life;
they're big, flashing signs
that something needs
~ Gretchen Rubin
The so-called negative emotions play a very important function: they let us know that something within needs attention, that something in our lives is out of alignment. Yet our culture teaches us not to listen but rather to distract ourselves by staying busy, or by utilizing one or more of the many possible addictions - food, over-work, sex, substances, etc- to not notice, to attempt to over-ride or outrun or drown out whatever the underlying dissatisfaction may be.
Many people think that it's a weakness to feel an emotion such as sadness, anger, anxiety, loneliness, shame or depression ( which is actually a suppression of feeling). They think that if they were stronger emotionally they would be happy and carefree. Many people subscribe to the idea that they should be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps or will themselves to be happy.
It's often hard to see what a gift these unpleasant emotions actually are in your life. They are messages from you psyche that something is amiss and needs attention. They serve as an internal GPS, trying to reroute you back onto the course that will get you where you want/need to go in your life!
They may be letting you know that something from the past has a hold on you and needs attention so you can make new choices in your present-day life. Or these feelings may be telling you that your relationship with yourself or with another is needing some attention or change. Maybe you are not happy with your job and need to attend to that and make some decisions. Or maybe you are being called to pay attention to your spiritual life.
Whatever the emotions are pointing to, the answers lie within you, if you can allow yourself to relate to these feelings as signposts and wayshowers for an inner exploration, as the starting point for the internal GPS that wants to guide you to a more fulfilling life.
Peggy Handler, MFT, is a psychotherapist in San Francisco's Noe Valley