The Dirty Little Secret To Emotional Health

Posted by on Monday, December 15th, 2014 with 1 Comments

toilet-paper

I don’t care if you’re a child or an adult – you need to know about poop.

Wait, I thought this was an article about emotional health. It is, dear reader, it is. Read on.

It all starts with feelings. We have them. They’re a fundamental part of existence, much like food, water, and warmth. The problem is, some of them are uncomfortable. So we, as humans, decide we’re going to get rid of them. It’s very natural to want to get rid of bad feelings, and there are effective ways of doing so. Unfortunately though, most people choose to get rid of bad feelings in a way that doesn’t work at all.

Let’s say you just applied for a job, and found out that you didn’t get it. You had been hoping to get this job, dreaming about it, visualizing what it would be like to sit at your desk and make important conversation with your colleagues. But they ended up rejecting you. Well, that feels sucky. So, what do the majority of us do with that feeling? We try to get rid of it.

Now, I’m not making a small statement when I say that most people try to get rid of bad feelings. The phenomenon is so widespread that a huge portion of the world’s economy relies on it. The alcohol and tobacco industries, the fast food industry, and much of the pharmaceutical industry cater to our instinct to drown out, ignore, replace, and even obliterate these feelings.

But there’s something crucial that we seem to be forgetting when we choose to push our feelings out of the way. And here is where poop comes back into the picture. (Aren’t you glad?)

As it turns out, feelings are not just abstract concepts that we can push out of our minds. They are real, physical, chemicals in our brain. And there is a process for cleansing our minds of them in the same way that there is a process for cleansing our bodies of food we have eaten which is no longer useful to us.

The process is simply to allow ourselves to feel our feelings. If, when a feeling comes over us, we allow ourselves to experience it fully, it will likely be gone in a matter of hours. But if we prevent ourselves from experiencing our feelings – as so many of us do when our feelings are undesirable ones like sadness, jealousy, and anger – then something remarkable happens: those feelings stick around and NEVER go away until we have processed them.

You read that correctly. I am saying that when we push bad feelings out of our minds, they remain pretty much right where they are until we have eliminated them in the way that our minds require us to. In other words, not allowing yourself to feel your feelings is like not pooping.
Let’s take the example from earlier, of being turned down for the job you wanted. Many people might take this unfortunate news over to the local bar. Now, if they were to have a drink or two, bitch about the unfairness of life to the bartender, and go home and cry, all would be well. That’s processing your emotions. But if instead they went to the bar, had 6 drinks, and did everything possible to erase the memory from their mind, that’s where a serious problem could start.

See, by “forgetting about your feelings,” you’re actually just pushing them to the back of your mind where they are less accessible. They are still just as present, however, and will be waiting for you when you wake up the next day. And if you’re really committed to not acknowledging those bad feelings and routinely distract yourself with alcohol, drugs, work, shopping, exercise, politics, or what have you, then not only will those bad feelings still remain, but something rather insidious will start to happen: you will forget why they’re there. As a result, you might wake up in the middle of the night sometimes feeling disoriented and anxious and not understanding why. Maybe you already got another job, maybe things in your life are going just fine now, but the fact remains that you still have not addressed those feelings of disappointment from several weeks ago. Because you didn’t take a few hours to process your emotions, you are now sentenced to sporadic moments of confused worry, which you will no doubt wish to push out of your mind as well, distracting yourself from it just like you did with the original feelings.
Now you’re compounding the poop in your mind.

If you ever wonder how people become full-fledged depressed, this is how. Depression is not sadness; it’s stored-up things left unaddressed in our minds, festering away. Sadness is so much easier to deal with than depression. Sadness is a healthy, normal emotion that all people have from time to time. You feel it, and then it goes away. Depression is an unhealthy state which only goes away once you locate and process all the bad feelings you have been ignoring. That’s essentially what one of the most respected fields of psychoanalysis – Psychodynamic Therapy – is all about.

Much of the time, our bad feelings occurred in childhood, and our natural defense mechanisms pushed them away in order to survive the turbulent new world we were living it. That’s certainly not our fault – and most of the time, it’s not our fault when we fail to process our feelings. But the consequences are real nonetheless.

You’re right if you’re starting to feel that this is one complicated subject. There may already be plenty of feelings you can no longer remember the original source of, and therefore cannot process. But there is still a lot you can do moving forward. Simply put, the next time you have a feeling that you’d rather not have, try to accept that it’s there anyway, and face it. It’s not fun to face a bad feeling, but it will be over before you know it – I promise. Don’t do to yourself what millions of others have done, which has caused all manner of depression and pain in the world: Don’t hide your feelings from yourself.

After all, nobody likes to be constipated.

When he’s not writing about psychological waste products, Evan is the CEO of thought leadership marketing company First Page Sage.

One response to “The Dirty Little Secret To Emotional Health”

  1. Lana Shay says:

    I LOVE this. It’s so true. I was literally just having this conversation with my mother today. We’ve had some very hairy situations in the past, and I wanted to articulate this to her. I’m sending it! Thank you for sharing 🙂

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