The only healthy way to deal with painful emotions is to connect with and transform them. But that’s not what most people do.
How we deal with our painful emotions is the biggest determinant of physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. There are essentially three options: maximizing, minimizing and transforming. Maximizing is a strategy to get attention, which leads to inflammatory diseases and destroys relationships. Minimizing is a strategy for coping, but leads to stress-related diseases and saps happiness. Transforming is a strategy to connect with and release painful emotions, which leads to long-term health and wellness.
Maximizing Painful Emotions
Maximizing painful emotions is a counter-intuitive but common strategy.
When we’re young we learn that when we cry, we get attention. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of seeing a toddler crying and thinking, “She’s just doing that to get attention.” This attention-getting strategy can become engrained as a habit of maximizing pain to get more attention – a habit that continues in adulthood.
As I discussed in the article about allergies, painful emotions tend to lead to inflammation. The American National Institutes of Health now recognize inflammation as the common link among the leading causes of death.
The more inflammation you carry, the younger you die.
So what started as a strategy of maximizing emotional pain can lead to very real physical illness and pain. That physical pain can in turn also be used for getting even more attention. This can become a self-reinforcing negative spiral.
No one likes to be manipulated. When we use any form of pain as a manipulative way to get attention, it annoys the people around us.
Maximizing pain may be a way to get people’s attention, but it leads to low quality, highly manipulative relationships.
I go into more detail about this strategy in Attention Drama Queens: Negative Attention Is Bad For Your Health!
Minimizing Painful Emotions
We are designed to avoid pain.
When we have a headache, we take a painkiller. When we feel emotional pain, it’s natural to do whatever we can to stop feeling the pain. There are many ways to accomplish this from watching scary movies to taking drugs. Or we can use the frontal lobes of our brains to deny that we’re feeling any pain and instead stuff the feelings down into some hidden part of our body – we disconnect our mind from our emotional body.
This is what I had done over a year ago when I had experienced a painful heartbreak. That denial led to a chronic knee injury.
When we deny our emotions they don’t actually disappear. It takes constant effort to keep them locked away. Think the ectoplasm containment unit in Ghostbusters, which eventually became so overloaded with bad energy that it exploded.
All that containment work creates stress in the body, which is probably the second leading contributor to illness in the USA.
The mechanisms we use to close off our painful emotions are not selective. If we use drugs to deaden our pain, those same mechanisms also deaden our positive emotions. If we disconnect our mind from our emotional body, we disconnect from all our emotions, not just the bad ones.
We end up as walking heads – devoid of emotions good or bad. Without emotions we may fool ourselves into thinking we’re happy, but we can’t actually feel happy.
Transforming Painful Emotions
When painful emotions are felt, without judgment or the need to change them, they flow and release of their own accord. Our built-in capabilities for healing only get interrupted by our need for attention (maximizing) or our desire to avoid feeling pain (minimizing).
Reestablishing our natural self-healing ability is quite easy. All it requires is the desire to reconnect and a process for doing so. You can see videos of this process from my personal journey in Depression Visits, Like a Hummingbird and Moving to Forgive My Buddy. In both cases the emotions that I contacted and released were intense, but there was no need for big drama.
Inflammation and stress are contributors to most major chronic diseases. When we transform our emotions, we reduce inflammation and stress and improve our overall health and longevity.
When we stop maximizing our emotions, people perceive us as being less manipulative and more enjoyable and they are more drawn to be in relationship with us.
When we stop minimizing our emotions we connect with ourselves and can feel true happiness and satisfaction.
Which Is Your Favorite Strategy?
We all have a favorite strategy for dealing with painful emotions. We don’t consciously choose that strategy as adults, but rather accidentally stumble into it as young children – with no idea how that choice will affect our health and wellbeing in later life.
What are your favorite ways of dealing with painful emotions? How do those strategies serve you well? What negative impacts do they have on your health, relationships and happiness?
Create the Strategy You Want
Whatever your past means of dealing with painful emotions, once you recognize the strategy you have adopted, you can start to make new choices and create new habits.
Here are some resources that will support you on your journey:
- Degeneration or Regeneration – It’s Always a Choice will give you insight into how you can start forming new habits
- How To Ensure Your Wellbeing in Seven Minutes a Day will give you inspiration for how to develop self-awareness
- How to Reestablish Your Mind-Body Connection will give you a process for undoing the strategy of minimizing, and developing the habit of transforming your emotions
- The Body-Psyche Program will provide you with deep healing to undo any patterns of maximizing that you have adopted