Fronting Feelings

How can we know the joy happiness brings if we’ve never experienced sorrow? Can you take pride in courage without ever being gripped by fear? Will we be able to truly sense contentment without having first embraced discontent?

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By Samineh I. Shaheem (Out of Mind)

Published: Sun 1 Sep 2013, 1:14 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 8:37 AM

Most people don’t entertain distressing feelings; actually we go to great lengths to avoid them. Instead we choose their positive counterparts, even artificially, circumventing undesirable sentiment as the presumed best way to cruise through life. This tendency encourages a lack of awareness about an important dimension of ourselves, and in doing so, perhaps causing greater distress later on. The escape, can be in the form of a vacation for example, providing a short and temporary detachment from one’s problems or it can be a tool of distraction like watching a movie, reading a book, surfing the net or chatting with friends in order to find a shelter away from certain thoughts and feelings.

While evading harsh realities may fool us into thinking we have overcome them, the feelings are likely to linger, existing as repressed emotional states that may cognitively confine us, resulting in greater unhappiness or misery.

The technique of avoidance may seem like a solution, but it’s only a provisional mental distraction. The best way to actually move forward from unpleasant feelings is to accept and embrace issues, dealing with them as appropriate. The author, Junot Diaz, a Dominican-American writer, creative writing professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and fiction editor at Boston Review, said, ‘But if these years have taught me anything it is this: you can never run away. Not ever. The only way out is in.’ This resonates with the widely accepted psychological belief that introspection and dealing with our difficult feelings is the best way to put them to rest and stop them from rearing their ugly heads, negatively affecting various aspects of our lives.

Here’s the thing: feelings don’t just go away. By avoiding them they may intensify, multiply, or transform into displaced needs for other things. Suppression of challenging thoughts, affect both our physical and mental states, and some symptoms include:

> Turning to substances or food in order to escape negative feelings

> Becoming co-dependent

> Excessive need for control

> Development of obsessive and compulsive behaviours

> A risk of developing eating disorders

> Generalised sadness or anxiety

> An inability to concentrate

> Loss of excitement for usual activities and loved ones

One of the many ways to deal with such feelings is to first correctly identify them. While this may sound simple, it is, in fact, far more easily overlooked even by those who are emotionally intelligent. This identification leads to an understanding of not just the feeling but also where it’s come from, what it means and how it can be managed. Other ways to deal with distressing emotional states include:

> Writing them down in a diary or journal

> Sharing thoughts with loved ones

> Crying

> Creative expression like painting

> Counselling

> Gain some perspective and consider what others may feel in your shoes

You’re disappointed you didn’t get the job? Talk about it. You’re feeling a void in the pit of your stomach since your son started university abroad? Talk about it. You’re hurting because of a recent relationship ending. Guess what? Talk about it. After all, saying ‘I’m fine’ when you’re not, can be an acronym for Feelings Inside Not Expressed.

It’s easy to forget that we need to show ourselves the same level of compassion and attention we show others. Give yourself time to heal and stay with unsettling emotions, instead of locking them up in a dark corner of our being. Fronting emotions may not always initially feel good, however it will eventually result in feeling more connected with oneself, greater self-awareness/insight and also a sense of accomplishment for having worked through a distressing time.

It doesn’t matter which journey you take in order to develop emotionally by coming face to face with emotions that occupy an unhappy space in our thoughts. The most important thing is that you actually face them, adapt coping responses and learn from such experiences. This will enable a strong foundation for future relationships and a sense of attunement to who you are, how far you’ve come, how you got there and most importantly, where you would like to be.

Samineh I. Shaheem is an author, an assistant professor of psychology, consultant at HRI, Learning & Development advisor and owner of Life Clubs UAE. She has studied and worked in different parts of the world, including the USA, Canada, UK, Netherlands, and now the UAE. She co hosts a radio program on 103.8 FM Dubai Eye (Psyched Sundays, Voices of Diversity 10-12pm) every Sunday morning discussing the most relevant psychological issues in our community. Twitter: @saminehshaheem/Facebook: Life Clubs UAE

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