The "darker" side of yourself: Expressing negative emotions

Most people are famil­i­ar with the expres­sion “I’m just hav­ing one of those days”. You know, the days where you are cut off on the high­way, your cred­it card is declined in a long line of people, you are screamed at for some­thing that is not your fault, your child (or chil­dren you care for) has a major, full-out tem­per tan­trum in the middle of The Bay and you feel like leav­ing them behind. Or some­times it’s more pro­found than just a bad day, but a series of not-fun events in sev­er­al months or a year. Enough to make you throw in the tow­el.

The ques­tion is, do you actu­ally ever release the frus­tra­tion or upset from those events? If you feel like scream­ing, do you? Do you have a Kathy Bates in Fried Green Tomatoes moment where you smash someone’s car up just because you are tired of tak­ing every­one else’s abuse? Unlikely, for many reas­ons (insur­ance being one of them)!

We have pos­it­ive and neg­at­ive emo­tions. Our “neg­at­ive” emo­tions are seen as anger, sad­ness, frus­tra­tion, depres­sion, sor­row… and those are healthy to be expressed. The trouble is, no one knows how to express them prop­erly and as a res­ult when you finally do attempt to express them they are lit­er­ally explod­ing like a vol­cano from you — with either hys­ter­ic­al cry­ing for hours at a time or a full-on tan­trum. Both scen­ari­os make you feel out of con­trol and unhinged, and often those bursts either scare you or hurt those around you. As a res­ult, you feel less inclined to express those feel­ings in a more mature or healthy way in the future and the cycle con­tin­ues. Sure, the large cath­arsis feels good, but is it truly healthy?

Sometimes long-term hold­ing of emo­tion becomes dis­ease (a phys­ic­al mani­fest­a­tion of an emo­tion­al issue). I have many patients whose bod­ies are what alerts them to an emo­tion­al or men­tal dis­turb­ance just by the sheer fact that they have run out of energy, they can’t cope the way they used to, or their immune sys­tem is shut­ting down. Of course, natur­o­path­ic doc­tors are not ther­ap­ists and not always can we fully carry someone the entire jour­ney of peel­ing back the lay­ers of emo­tion­al stag­na­tion. However, our back­ground in the con­nec­tion between the body and mind make us ideal in recog­niz­ing when the body is say­ing no, when it is the mind, and when they are over­lap­ping with their need for bal­ance.

What are healthy ways to discharge negative emotions?

I’m sure as many of you read this, you are think­ing this has noth­ing to do with you. If you answer no to two of the fol­low­ing ques­tions, per­haps you need to con­sider you have neg­lected the expres­sion of your emo­tion, and let’s face it, it’s going to come up one day or anoth­er.

  1. I reg­u­larly see a ther­ap­ist or have sought out coun­selling in the past to assist me in deal­ing with my abil­ity to cope with every­day stress, a trau­mat­ic event, or to help me express myself in a healthy way.
  2. I reg­u­larly write in a journ­al, via blog, or even by e-mail to get out my feel­ings and get them out of my head to get some per­spect­ive. Sometimes they are just for me to get my feel­ings out.
  3. I have been exposed to cer­tain types of medi­cine that address phys­ic­al mani­fest­a­tions of the body and soul — Traditional Chinese Medicine, Homeopathic Medicine, Ayurvedic Medicine, Auricular Medicine
  4. I have friends or fam­ily with whom I feel com­fort­able chat­ting about an issue of which I am hav­ing trouble resolv­ing.
  5. I par­ti­cip­ate in phys­ic­al activ­ity reg­u­larly from which I feel more relaxed when I am fin­ished and bet­ter able to put in per­spect­ive stressors or emo­tion
  6. I have tried Yoga, Pilates, Reiki in the past and use them both for phys­ic­al and emo­tion­al release
  7. I reg­u­larly par­ti­cip­ate in one of the above.

Start to integ­rate some healthy cop­ing mech­an­isms into your life­style — your body will thank you!

Resources to get you started

Ben-Zeev, D. In the Name of Love: A Philosopher Looks at Negative Emotions. Psychology Today, 2010.

Chopra, Deepak. Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul. Harmony Books, 2009

Mate, Gabor. When the Body Says No. 2008.

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