Why I enjoy feeling crappy (and why you might enjoy it, too)
Updated: Jan 11, 2019
If you’re anything like me, you’ve experienced a lot of uncomfortable emotions in your life. Anxiety, depression, stress, fear, anger, insecurity, and shame are just some of the emotions I know all too well, and I know firsthand that it really sucks when you’re sitting in the middle of them. And if you’re like me, perhaps you’ve tried everything you could to stop feeling those feelings. I know I spent years doing that. But then I stumbled across a revolutionary understanding of how the mind actually works, and it completely changed my relationship to my negative emotions. I no longer felt any need to try and “fix” my feelings, and I actually feel grateful now when I feel bad. That might sound really crazy, I know! Perhaps you might begin to see why as you read on.
It seems to me that many people live their lives afraid of their negative thoughts and emotions and will do anything they can to stop feeling them. You see evidence of this everywhere: People turn to alcohol, drugs, food, sex, violence, and other behaviors to numb their negative feelings and escape their thoughts. Others go the “empowered” route, using strategies such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness, affirmations, and other self-help techniques to control their thinking and emotions and train their mind to not have negative experiences.
As best as I can tell, the only reason people go to such lengths to “fix” how they’re feeling is because they misunderstand where their feelings are actually coming from. They think that somehow their circumstances or other people cause them to feel bad. Or they’ve been conditioned to see their feelings as a commentary on themselves, leaving them hopeless and discouraged. If that’s how things worked, I admit doing those behaviors and activities kinda makes sense. If it looks to someone like their negative feelings are the result of what’s happening outside of them, they’ll look outside for ways to stop feeling bad.
But as you’ve probably already guessed, that’s not how it actually works. Our experience of life is created from the inside-out, meaning that contrary to how it might often appear, we are living in the feeling of our thinking, not the feeling of our circumstances. I like to look at our feelings like our internal barometer, always letting us know the pressure level of thought in the moment. When there’s less on our mind and our thinking is flowing in a good direction, we feel more in the flow of life – freer, clearer, more relaxed and settled. When the pressure and noise of our thinking starts to rise, we feel more unsettled, anxious, or stressed. So rather than being a validation of our thoughts, our negative feelings are more like a warning signal that we’re caught up in our heads and we might not want to take our thinking too seriously.
Here’s another way to describe it: think of your negative feelings like the “Check Engine” light in a car. If the light goes off in your car, you’re probably not going to flag down the person driving next to you, roll down the window, and say, “Hey you! My engine light just went on. I think your car’s broken!” And yet, when we blame others and circumstances for our feelings, that’s sort of what we’re doing.
Another thing I see just as often is people thinking their negative feelings are telling them about themselves – the “I feel like crap because I am crap” mentality. Well, that’s sort of like thinking, “Crap, the ‘Check Engine’ light is on. I must be a terrible driver!” Of course, it’s a silly conclusion to draw and yet, it really does seem to us sometimes like what we’re feeling is who we really are.
The truth is that our internal “Check Engine” light isn’t telling us about us or the world around us. It’s just alerting us that our thinking is overheating and we might not be seeing things in a helpful perspective.
Isn’t that cool? I recognize this flies in the face of what we’re taught in therapy, self-help, and society in general. And yet, take a moment to consider what this new way of looking at your feelings means for you. As I said before, seeing how the thought/feeling connection actually works was a game changer for me. I’m not afraid of feeling bad anymore, because I see something so clearly now:
The very feelings we’ve treated as our enemy and perhaps resorted to drastic measures to numb were actually never our enemy to begin with. They’ve been working for us, trying to steer us away from our noisy thinking the whole time – we just didn’t understand what they were actually trying to tell us. So while some people look at “we feel our thinking” as a bad thing, in reality, this “bad” thing serves a very good purpose. It’s like pain – when we touch a hot object, we’ll feel some pain because our body wants to prevent us from feeling much more pain if we keep our hand on the heat. Without that pain, how would we ever know to pull our hand away?
Our mind works in the same way. Our unsettled feelings are there to encourage us to pull back from our thinking in that moment to prevent us from feeling much more pain if we keep thinking the way we’re thinking. As we step back from our thinking and let it settle, we’ll have more clarity, see things with a better perspective, and be more receptive to our innate wisdom that will help us know what we need and what to do next.
What does it do for you to see everything with this new perspective? To me, it reveals a true kindness in the way we’re designed. Our mind has always got our back, no matter what. If we ever start to get caught up in contaminated thinking, we’ll know. So rather than looking at stress, depression, or anxiety as a sign that I’m broken, I see it now as proof that the signals are functioning perfectly. Negative feelings now have just as much value to me as positive ones. I have no desire to numb those feelings anymore because I want my “Check Engine” light shining brightly if I get caught up in my head. As a result, I’m much more in tune now with when my thinking starts to veer off the road. And because thought is transient, I’m only a thought away from a whole new experience. As are all of us.
So, the next time your light comes on, remember what it’s really trying to tell you. And who knows – you just might start feeling grateful for feeling bad, too.