Happiness does not mean we have positive feelings all the time. Life is 50/50; to create a happy life, we must make room for negative emotions. All your feelings, the negative ones included, can be portals to experiencing more of God's presence.
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You're listening to The Happiest Lives Podcast with Jill Lillard—episode Number 7.
Hey, hey, everybody! Welcome back. This week, we are going to talk about experiencing negative emotions. This is an important skill set for everyone, so I want to make sure you listen up.
A handful of times within the past year stand out to me where I was very deliberate and conscious of experiencing those unwanted emotions– all the things I didn't want to feel, but the feelings that were there.
And I say I didn't want to feel them. But that's actually not true. They were not my favorite emotions. I probably wouldn't have intentionally signed up for them, but I knew they were there, so I consciously wanted to feel them to understand what they were all about.
If you're going to feel sad, if you're going to feel upset or frustrated, hurt or angry, you might as well choose that experience on purpose. When you do, you will gain awareness of your thoughts when you feel from a loving, gentle place. This is part of having a relationship with yourself.
A time that stands out for me was last fall when my son went away to college. That hit me a little harder than I had expected. After he was gone, I went into his bedroom and saw his little blue baby blankie folded at the foot of his bed in his empty bedroom.
And his bedroom was left meticulously clean because that is how he rolls. In the kitchen, I opened the freezer I saw the muffins and frozen cooked bacon I had made for him, and he ate each morning throughout the summer. All the little seemingly insignificant things made me want to cry.
I felt really sad, and I wanted to feel sad about him leaving. It would be weird if I didn’t feel sad. Even though the grief wasn’t entirely logical, I wasn’t ready to reason it away.
Logically, I knew he would be back for visits over Christmas and summer, and I knew all this was supposed to happen. I knew he was only moving less than an hour away, and I could visit him anytime. I knew it was time for him to leave. I would be upset if he just stayed home. I wanted him to grow up, go to college, and leave home one day.
And yet there was an emptiness and sorrow. And so I just allowed myself to be sad and do it on purpose that day.
This is what it felt like for my first child to move away. I had that experience, and that is what I want. I was having the full human experience. This meant I was a living human being.
At was not at the mercy of my feelings like they were happening to me. And I wasn’t going in conscious by buffering my sadness with food, shopping, or other distractions. Instead, I stayed aware of what I was feeling.
I even intentionally reached out to my sister-in-law and friend, whose daughters had also left for college, expressed how I was feeling, and asked how they were feeling. Sharing my feelings with others and allowing them space to share their feelings helped me grieve this life change without acting like it was happening TO me or by disconnecting from myself.
And this is what I want to talk about today with you. This is part of living a happy life. Feeling all the feels.
Sometimes life will be interesting, and fun, and carefree, and other times you will find it to be dreadful, sad, and lonely.
We have to learn how to feel all the emotions, or we will feel bad anytime we feel bad. We will agonize over our agony and get anxious about our anxiety.
The alternative to feeling emotion is to resist emotion. However, when we are unwilling to experience a feeling, when we resist it, much like a crying child, it will keep calling our name until we pay attention. And if we suppress it, we may find relief for a moment, but in the long term, we will create more pain and problems for ourselves.
I teach my clients to take ownership of their negative emotions by identifying the thoughts creating their feelings. I also show them how to create more positive feelings by asking what else is possible about their situation. I think this is really really important work.
However, do not confuse it to mean we aren't supposed to feel negative emotions. We're not trying to power our way out of negative feelings. The goal is not always to just create positive and happy feelings.
To have the whole human experience is to feel all the emotions and find the gifts in the negative ones. When you are able and willing to feel anything, you are going, will keep moving forward in your life. Opening yourself up to the full ride, you will find treasures in dark places and will be able to one day look back at your life with a sense of deep satisfaction.
On the other hand, if you keep resisting negative emotions, you will find yourself stuck in them. It's like trying to run out of quicksand. The harder you run, the deeper you will sink.
It's almost like feelings are there waiting to be processed. They want to give you something, but you must be willing to allow them and move through them.
If you start feeling bad about feeling bad like you shouldn't feel this way, “I should be more grateful,” or “I should feel more positive,” then you're going to beat yourself up, and you are going to create secondary negative emotions like guilt and shame.
To avoid unwanted emotions, we may find ourselves buffering. Buffering is anything we do to avoid feeling. It could be overeating, overdrinking, excessive spending, pornography, overworking, or wasting hours on Netflix or social media.
When you buffer negative emotions, initially, you may experience relief as dopamine is released into your body. And yet, ultimately, we experience a net negative consequence.
For example, when you buffer negative emotions by inhaling a plate of nachos, you later beat yourself because you ate too much contributing to your struggle with your weight. And you never actually learn how to feel the negative emotion, you will continue a cycle of buffering. So you may feel shame or guilt, and to buffer, you go get ice cream. It becomes a vicious cycle.
When we resist negative emotions by numbing ourselves, we also end up blocking out positive emotions. Afraid to feel, we disconnect from ourselves.
A concept that I learned at The Life Coach School is that life is 50/50. Half the time, you will feel good and the other half of the time you will feel terrible. So nothing has gone wrong when you experience the flip side of happiness.
You can't experience happiness without having experienced sadness. Without the contrast, the other wouldn’t exist. If we were all healthy and we had no sickness, then we wouldn't know what being healthy meant. If we never experienced frustration or disappointment, then we wouldn’t know joy, contentment, and peace. Because of darkness, we know what light is. One exists because of the other.
Think of the contrast of pain and joy in your life that are almost interwoven. I immediately think about being pregnant. I was not one of those people who loved being pregnant even though I was so grateful I was. It was a beautiful, beautiful experience to know that my body was making a baby.
However, it was really uncomfortable. I'm one of those people who started hurting a few weeks into my pregnancy. Even before there was the weight of the baby, I started having pelvic pain due to the relaxin in my body. I also blew up like a balloon with excessive water weight. You could press my leg and leave a lasting indention.
And as it gets closer to the time of birth, you're not sleeping as well. It's almost like your body's preparing you for the nights that you are going to be up with your new baby. And, of course, when you give birth, it's painful. It's a painful process, removing a human from the inside of you.
I say removing because, for me, after 3 days of inducing, I had to have a c-section. The birth of my son was a strenuous, difficult time in many ways. And yet it was the most amazing experience I've had in my life. My husband held my son as I lay there being stitched back up. He brought him to me, and I looked into my newborn’s eyes, and it just felt like we were looking into one another's soul.
They say newborn babies can't make eye contact, but I felt like Sawyer, and I locked eyes as though we had always known each other. Then to hold him in my arms for the first time it was an amazing beautiful experience.
But it didn't come without pain. There was a lot of waiting and pain involved, which I think made giving birth and holding him even more amazing.
Have you ever worked really hard for something? You had different obstacles and challenges and times you thought everything would fall apart, and you had to persevere even though everything inside of you wanted to give up.
But then you come out on the other side. And it's a very rewarding, fulfilling feeling–nothing tops it. Just consuming pleasure does not satisfy the way hard work and perseverance does. And yet so often, we are pursuing comfort. We want to feel comfortable. We don’t want to feel terrible.
This makes me think about a sweaty workout, lifting weights, and pushing myself beyond my physical abilities. It doesn't feel good at the moment. It feels terrible. At that moment, I would much rather be sitting on the couch, eating Buffalo cookies.
But which one makes me feel happier? Which one is actually more fulfilling, more rewarding? It's coming out on the other side of having lifted the weights and made choices that satisfied my body long term.
There is a sweet joy found in discipline, self-control, perseverance, and overcoming obstacles. The reward is great, but it would not exist without the struggle.
So when I experience negative emotion and when you experience a negative emotion, we have to change the way we're thinking about it. Notice your resistance to the feeling. You may think it shouldn’t be there, that you want it to stop, and something bad is going to happen, that you need to get out of it.
And then hit pause. Offer yourself the thought, “Life is 50/50.” Or “I am supposed to have negative emotions.”
When you believe the feeling should be there, you will feel calmer, relaxed, and more accepting. You will feel willing to experience it.
The contrast to this is when we start to agonize over our agony, we get anxious about our anxiety and panic over the loneliness or grief that we're feeling.
But when we say, “Okay, this gets to be there; it's supposed to be there; nothing has gone wrong. I'm willing to feel it,” everything changes.
When people you love aren't happy all the time, even if your spouse is having a bad day, he seems frustrated or disconnected, and you stop worrying and trying to fix things because you know that he is not supposed to be happy all the time, you start to relax and not get anxious thinking you have to make him laugh or smile. When you accept negative emotions, you won't be frustrated that people are frustrated. You know that is all part of it.
I like to think of my negative feelings as an opportunity to experience the presence of God. If this is the case, I will stop resisting the negative feeling as though it shouldn't be there, and instead, I lean in.
I invite the Holy Spirit to be with me—he's already there. I welcome him into that pain as I know he is near the brokenhearted and hurting. He is there when I feel restless. When I feel anxious. When I feel lonely. I imagine him right there with me.
I had a friend who had cancer. And she's well now, but she talked about that season when she felt like she was kind of walking through the valley of the shadow of death. It seemed that God was so close to her.
And she told me, “I know this sounds weird, but there are times I wish I could go back to when I had that cancer because God's presence felt so close.” In her darkest moment, she found this treasure of God’s presence.
We can try to avoid discomfort and pain, but we won't be able to outrun it. There will be another pain we experience playing it safe. We'll miss out on positive experiences when we start that habit of blocking out emotion.
Our feelings are created by our thoughts about our circumstances. This includes the things people say and do and sensations in our bodies, and acts of nature.
What are we thinking about these things? This will create our feelings. And so our negative feelings are created in our minds.
If you experience negative emotions, be curious and ask, “Hey, what's happening here? What thought is creating this feeling?” When we stop to ask, we can gain insight into what's really going on in our brain and in our heart, what we're actually believing.
If we do this from a place of being an observer without beating ourselves up, we will find an opportunity to grow and experience more of the Lord as we invite him into that process. Our emotions will become a portal to the presence of God. And to me, this is being alive.
When pain and sorrow meet the one who is Lord of all, the storms are calmed. Joy and peace soon follow. This is happiness.
Many times when we resist emotion, we don’t even realize that is what we are doing, much less what it is that we are trying to escape.
What are we so afraid of feeling? We don't even know. We just believe the emotion is dangerous and may swallow us, so we avoid it by going unconscious or trying to outrun it.
Maybe we are afraid if we feel the feeling, we will become indulgent; that it will rule us. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Indulging is really just another form of resistance. So if you're really angry, and you yell and throw things, you're not really feeling that emotion, you're indulging it.
To feel anger, you would need to get still and become aware of all the sensations in your body, not react to them.
If you're really depressed and you go unconscious and stay in your bed all day, you're not really feeling the sadness. You're indulging it by trying to disconnect and shut off and avoid.
I had a client that I recently saw, who experienced a familiar feeling of anxiety, and when she did, she started to panic about the feeling.
She was having thoughts about herself at work, thoughts that she was inadequate. As so every Sunday night, she would feel anxious about going to work and it would continue all week, even as she tried to sleep at night.
This anxiety took on a life of its own. When she felt anxious, she would start to panic, thinking it needed to stop and that something was wrong with her if it didn’t.
She would try to distract herself at night by listening to podcasts. And yet, it felt like that anxiety wasn't going away, and so she would just go into a state of panic.
In our session, I wanted to walk her through what it actually looked like to experience the feeling that she was having. And so I had her close her eyes and try to observe her experience.
I asked her where she felt the anxiety in her body and what it felt like. She told me she could feel it racing down her arms and hands like fire. I instructed her to just sit with it as quietly as she could and I would sit there quietly with her and that she could just let me know of any changes she noticed.
As I walked her through the whole process of experiencing the anxiety, I wasn't wanting to know her thoughts about what she was feeling, I was wanting her to describe the sensations. But she would keep going into sharing her thoughts with me.
“I just don't want to feel this. I want it to go away.”
I could see that she was becoming panicky as we sat there.
And so I told her, “That feeling is not going to hurt you, okay? And it's okay if you don't want to feel it. Just know that it's harmless. Nothing is happening right now, but you and I sitting here paying attention to what sensations you are having right now. That's it.”
And so it took her a little bit, to be willing to feel it, but she later told me that when I said that the feeling wouldn't hurt her, she was able to relax and lean into it. As she continued the exercise, she could observe sensations move to different places in her body, and eventually it dissipated.
When we are willing to feel, we move through an emotion and when we aren’t willing, we get stuck in the feeling and even panic. Her anxiety about her anxiety was causing her panic.
Next time you find yourself experiencing negative emotions or you catch yourself reaching for your favorite buffer, just stop.
Set a timer for 10 minutes and pay attention to the sensations you are experiencing in your body. Don't get stuck in your thoughts about the situation. Allow yourself just to have the physical experience of feeling within your body, then you will discover what it is that you've been avoiding when you grab your vice and buffer your feelings.
I am now thinking about the feelings of guilt and shame. This comes up anytime we sin, when we miss the mark or think we are being judged. When we judge ourselves because it feels terrible, we’ll want to hide.
Adam and Eve are perfect examples of this. After they disobeyed God, they felt shame and hid behind a plant. We do the same thing. Instead of turning toward the Lord, our instinct may be to hide and buffer. And yet, in our worst state, he welcomes us with grace, mercy, and forgiveness. All that is required is repentance and willingness to change our heart, mind, and direction.
I had another client I saw recently who was unfaithful to her husband and she wanted to stay married to him. And so we are slowly unpacking how things came to that place, but we couldn't get there until she was able to feel her guilt and shame without resisting it and hiding.
When she did, she could exchange it for God’s grace which allowed her to move forward. Yet this was so hard for her to do because when she felt shame, her initial response was to become very defensive, blame, justify and get angry.
And yet, in the next breath, she would say I should never have done this. Believing she had not only failed her husband, but God, she felt unworthy to be in his presence, yet God was inviting her to come as she was and leave made new.
When you know you're having a negative emotion, instead of pretending you don't have it or trying to power your way into a new thought, just lean into it. Relax into it, and invite the Lord to be there with you. Then release it and let it go. Give it to him.
To be happier, to experience more contentment and joy, you must accept all the feelings without beating yourself up for your human experience. Allow negative emotions to be part of your life, and you will discover that you are better, richer, and more satisfied for it.
Thank you all for listening. Have a beautiful weekend.