Why There’s No Such Thing as “Unhealthy” Emotions

Why There’s No Such Thing as “Unhealthy” Emotions

“The more you hide your feelings, the more they show. The more you deny your feelings, the more they grow.” - Anonymous

When I first started exploring personal development and digging down past my defenses and conditioning to find a more authentic version of myself, I thought the aim was to “fix myself” so I could be “happy”.

Not having any clue about what “happiness” really meant at that time (or what I wanted it to mean to me), I remember going into my first therapy session thinking that, if the therapy was a success, when I finished I just wouldn’t experience uncomfortable or challenging feelings anymore.

Little did I realize then that an important part of my journey would be learning to accept that those feelings, as uncomfortable as they might be, are in integral part of the human experience. Over the past few years, I’ve learned that so-called “unhealthy” feelings like anger, envy, and frustration are not only natural experiences but they can actually be helpful.

What makes or breaks our relationships and experience of life isn’t whether or not we feel these emotions, but how we respond to them.

To feel or not to feel?

Early on in my self-discovery journey, I became confused. I was reading a lot of self-help and New Age wisdom that talked about letting go of feelings like anger, jealousy and bitterness in order to reach a state of enlightenment. At the time, the way I interpreted this was that it was wrong to experience these emotions and that, if I wanted to be a healthy person, I needed to reach a point where I didn’t feel them anymore.

At the same time, I found that I couldn’t stop myself feeling what I was feeling, and my therapist was encouraging me to focus on accepting these feelings rather than trying to get rid of them.

I felt stuck. I wondered whether there there was something wrong with me and I wasn’t quite getting it. After all, I was still experiencing anger, I still felt jealous of other people, and I still got frustrated.

The reality of “unhealthy” feelings

What I also realized, however, was that there was wisdom in these experiences. When I questioned my philosophy, I realized that, for me, these feelings were full of information about my values, needs, and desires.

I also didn’t find that I was consumed by these feelings: in fact, I noticed that when I was willing to accept and make peace with my experience, these feelings were transitory. It was only when I tried to push them away that I started to suffer. Over time, I realized that feeling these feelings wasn’t the issue. It was my resistance to feeling them that was ultimately stressful.

The truth is that we can’t stop ourselves feeling certain things or get rid of certain emotions. What we can control, however, is what we do next.

My experience has left me concerned with our tendency as a society to label certain feelings as “healthy” and “unhealthy”. Feelings are just feelings, and the danger with labeling them is that we start to reject our own natural internal process.

When we push down or reject the emotions we think we “shouldn’t” feel, they don’t go away. In fact, they get stronger.

All feelings are helpful, it’s how we respond to them that matters

In certain situations, anger is a just and healthy response to feeling threatened, attacked, or wronged (or seeing this behavior inflicted upon others). Other times, we might experience anger because of false beliefs we have about ourselves or the world, or because someone behaves in a way that reminds us of past hurt.

Whatever the root cause of the anger, exploring the “why” behind the feeling helps us gain a deeper understanding about ourselves. Then, we can make a more informed decision about how we want to respond to that feeling of anger: do we lash out, blame, judge, and shame, or do we use the feeling as an opportunity to learn more about ourselves, our beliefs?

As a coach, I notice that many of my clients struggle with this concept of healthy and unhealthy feelings. When I hear someone say “I know it’s wrong to feel that way…”, my experience has led me to ask “Why is it wrong?” and explore the beliefs underneath that statement. Without exception, when people start learning to accept these feelings, rather than labeling them, the feelings become less intense.

The most helpful and self-compassionate response to uncomfortable feelings that I’ve found is to return to that question of “why”. Today, I invite you to experiment with this approach and, in the face of challenging emotions, to ask yourself: Why am I so afraid of this? What do I fear? What does that tell me about my needs right now?

We don’t get to control how we feel, but we do get to choose how we respond: will it be from a place of self-compassion or self-criticism? From self-discovery or self-rejection? It’s our decision, each time.

How do you want to respond to challenging feelings in the future? Leave a comment and let us know.

Hannah Braime

Hannah Braime is a coach and writer who teaches people how to have a kinder relationship with themselves. She is the author of The Ultimate Guide to Journaling and From Coping to Thriving: How to Turn Self-care Into a Way of Life. You can find her at becomingwhoyouare.net, on Facebook and Twitter

35 Comments

  1. Hi Hannah,

    A very touchy subject for some people, and I do agree with you, there is a lot of information that tells us that it is wrong to feel the likes of anger and such like. I also agree that these feelings are a part of who we are, and we can only change the way we feel by accepting these feelings and looking into why we are feeling them. A lot of these feelings can stem from conditioning and what we have picked up on our journey’s, but like you say we can learn from them and we can use them to discover more about ourselves, then we can move forward and benefit, instead of letting them stay with us because we have not dealt with them. Most of these kind of feelings are based on an early experience we have learned, situations that make these feelings come to the surface are just triggers that bring to the surface those learned emotions from those early experiences.

    It is not what happens, it is how we respond to what happens that is important.

    Great post Hannah

    Reply
    • Ohh my.Amazing post.That’s exactly what is going on in everyone’s life.Fight between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ feelings.Well I think its up to us to direct those bad feelings for something constructive. Whatever happens these feelings should never make us fall apart,and asking questions will definetly help in this.

      Reply
      • Hi Sneha! I agree that it’s our choice to use these feelings for something constructive. I also invite you to think of our feelings all as a natural part of being alive rather than a fight between good and bad. If we didn’t feel challenging feelings, we wouldn’t be human :)

        Reply
    • Thanks Robert!

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    • By “responding” to emotions what exactly do you mean? I know i have emotions such as anger, jealousy, etc… but how does one figure out a good way to respond to them without making irrational choices or without letting the feeling take over their whole state of mind?

      Great post by the way!

      Reply
  2. I felt like you were talking directly to me! Even though I’ve heard this before, it’s always good to be reminded that our attitude towards our feelings is what matters. I tend to reject or try to get rid of my uncomfortable feelings and they do seem to last longer. I also tend to feel guilty and tell myself bad things. It seems like they only go away when I finally accept them and treat myself with the respect I would have for others. Thank you so much for this post!

    Reply
    • Hey Will, I’m glad to hear the post resonated with you :) I think you make a really important point: I often find it helpful to ask myself “How would I respond to a friend in this situation?” and that helps me find more self-compassion.

      Reply
  3. I’d been beating myself up for feeling these “unhealthy” feelings for so long, convinced that I chose I feel them and struggling to get them to subside each time they come up but getting more and frustrated as to why I couldn’t choose the opposite! Trying to choose calm over anger was making me even more angry! Honestly, I didn’t think to dig deeper as to why I felt them, having been so focused on getting rid of them fron the get-go. Thanks for helping me look a little more closely at the reasons for my “bad” feelings!

    Reply
    • My pleasure, Liane! Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. We can’t choose or control our feelings, but what we can choose or control is how we respond—including how accepting of them we are. I hope this perspective serves you as you explore deeper :)

      Reply
  4. I would agree that their are no unhealthy feelings, but that feelings can overwhelm us at times and it is important to remember that feelings are not “facts”. Often for me there is an underlying reason behind each feeling and when I can step outside of myself and observe my emotion I can be come aware of that. It helps me to be kind to myself.

    For me, behind anger, there is always fear or frustration, behind consuming sadness, a lack of gratitude and an inability to be in the moment and practice awareness.

    The most important thing I can do is to be still and to act and and not react when I am consumed by emotion.

    Reply
    • Great tips, thanks for sharing!

      Reply
  5. Great post! It’s not about what our emotions are, it’s about how we deal with them that defines us. You will always feel things, but its how you act on them that really matters. Keep up the good work Hannah!

    Reply
    • Thanks Trevor! Glad you enjoyed the post.

      Reply
  6. well dealing with people that like to abuse their power
    brings up some strong feelings and dealing with that
    it can make you angry and for me pushing it down doesn’t work
    it well just come up again .And you’re dealing with a mind set
    that thinks it’s ok to do so .I think you have to have some form of restraint
    people like that would just use it against you .

    Reply
    • Hi Donald,

      An important part of self-care for me is to limit the amount of time with people who abuse power. As it sounds like you’re aware, you can’t change other people. That means that if they continue to provoke you or violate your boundaries, your anger is a sign that something isn’t right in the relationship.

      Reply
  7. “All feelings are helpful, it’s how we respond to them that matters.” I am going to take the liberty of paraphrasing you. I hope to confirm what you are teaching in this post by doing so.

    Feelings are facts. They may be uncomfortable, unfashionable or even appalling but they are real. Denying your feelings gives them a power that they wouldn’t normally have if they were accepted as a normal part of our growth process.

    We can choose how we respond to our feelings in a mature manner, thus accepting an opportunity to catapult past our current circumstances. Or we can capitulate to the feelings that we find unacceptable and become overwhelmed by them. The choice is ours.

    You have written an excellent post, Hannah. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Thanks Dave!

      Reply
  8. Hi Hannah,

    Thanks for sharing this! I struggled through similar things when my dad died–I didn’t want to show my emotions in front of other people, and I didn’t like crying. Over the years I managed to turn this into something healthy, where I filter through these emotions during meditation and journal writing each day, but it took me a long time to accept those emotions at all, let alone start working through them.

    The thing is, if you numb yourself to the unpleasant emotions, you end up feeling them all amplified later–so it’s important to start working through them right away.

    Thanks again for sharing your story,
    ~Dianna

    Reply
    • Hi Dianna,

      Thanks for your comment. You make a really valuable point about emotions becoming amplified later if we don’t deal with them in the present. I’ve also found that if we suppress emotions in the present then they end up controlling us even more (except we’re not consciously aware of it). I’m glad you’ve found an outlet for your experiences now.

      Reply
  9. Wow, I would think you wrote this about me. I have breast cancer, well, the cancer was removed this past October. I can’t say I am survivor yet..because of more surgeries to come. But during my treatment, I found many people were not there for me. I was very angry. I too went to therapist to understand, Why am I so angry? I wanted to know how to deal with these people. What I learnt, was yes, it is OK to be angry. That they are a disappointment to me. I can not change people but I can change myself. I also realized in therapy, is I am scared. But the most important lesson I am learning is, embrace my feelings and not to discount them. I was the girl who never cried, who never showed any emotion to anyone. Well, I am learning, it is OK. Embrace the feeling, and learn from it. So thank you Hannah. Sometimes hearing other people’s stories and experiences help in so many ways.

    Reply
    • Those emotions you experienced were fine, especially anger.i think you were definitely entitled to feel it. I am sure it helped you take the right conclusions. Best wishes, Lisa

      Reply
    • Wow, Lisa, I so admire your bravery. Yes, as much as we might want (and hope for) people to be there for us in times of need, if they decide not to be we can’t change who they are but we can use our feelings as a guide and show ourselves love and acceptance, even when other people aren’t.

      I’m glad reading my story was helpful. I imagine that you have a very important story of your own to share one day too :) Wishing you health and happiness.

      Reply
  10. Bravo, Hannah! Feelings are facts, they’re just feelings. The so-called “unhealthy” ones (anger, sadness, fear and guilt) actual teach me the post. This was a terrific post that I hope will help many.

    Reply
    • Thank you Marcy! I appreciate your kind words and I’m glad the post resonated with you :)

      Reply
  11. I also believe negative emotions can be helpful in the sense they help us identify something within us in not in balance. In my case, when I feel physically tired, the worst version of myself comes out. i simply manage it, I dont let those emotions guide my behaviour or my thoughts. So when I experience less than wonderful emotions, I interpret them as an indicator giving me some clues about something else within me that is not going completely well and if possible I take action like relaxing, resting, take an evening off etc. It works very well for me and it took me many years to understand how to manage these emotions. Emotions per se are not good nor bad. As someone pointed out, they are very powerful tools to look inside of us.

    Reply
    • Hi Jose, I love your point. I too experience more so-called negative emotions when I’m not taking care of my basic physical/emotional needs and I’m tired, hungry, or a similar state. In that situation, the emotion is a sign that I need to take action to better meet my needs.

      Reply
  12. Thanks xx

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  13. Great article Hannah!
    There are no good or bad feelings, only feelings. It is our thoughts that make them good or bad. When I first really got this a few years back, it opened so many inner doors. It was very freeing.

    I love the question “why”. Asking that question uncovers so many beliefs that hold us back.
    Thanks for the reminder.

    Reply
    • My pleasure Carolynne! I’m glad to hear the post was a useful reminder :)

      Reply
  14. Thanks Hannah !Will surely give it a thought :)

    Reply
  15. Very insightful post.
    Its so true that “what we resist, persists.” We should never resist emotions. Instead, look deep inside to find out the messages they contain.

    Reply
  16. It’s just like the saying, life is 10% what happens and 90% how you react to it. You can’t always decide what emotions you feel at a given time, you only control the way you handle those emotions.

    A perfect example of this, in the summertime I love to go swimming. It’s refreshing, great exercise and gives me a new burst of energy for the rest of the day. But that’s not really why I go swimming.

    Being in the ocean, or a river, or a lake, alone, scares the hell out of me. I don’t know why, but the thought of being in open water and seeing no one else around, instantly sets a sense of fear and I second guess myself.

    And that’s exactly why I jump in. Being afraid of something doesn’t mean you can’t still do it anyways. Just like if somebody really pisses you off, it doesn’t mean you can’t smile at them and walk away, while still being pissed off.

    Emotions allow us to take a deeper look at what’s important to us, and what we really don’t want to be a part of are lives. Every emotion does that in it’s own way.

    The only ‘unhealthy’ thing about emotions, is the way that we allow them to define who we are.

    Reply
  17. This is a great post. We have to remember that the “negative” or uncomfortable feelings are deeply connected to the positive and comfortable feelings. We can’t have happy without sad, for example. If we push away difficult feelings we also push away the gold, the opportunities for growth and an appreciation for the opposite feelings that are contained within them.

    Reply
  18. Yep, the most difficult feelings are those we hardly accept. Firstly we feel that there is something wrong having them and that bothers us a lot. The reality is that we need to watch these feelings from a different perspective – from the perspective of learning about your reaction to it.

    That’s how we learn our owns character.

    Reply
  19. A little late to the party, Hannah. But this is a very strong article. It’s time we learn to stop fearing our emotions and use them the way they were intended…as a guide for navigating the world and making choices. Thanks for writing this. :)

    Reply

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