A couple of days ago when I told someone it is possible to totally stop having negative emotions, he replied: “But if you suppress your feelings they will pop out when you least expect them, causing psychological damage, in addition to harm to your health.”
This is not the first time I’ve had this response; anytime I tell people that it is possible to stop having negative emotions they always assume that the only way to not experience negative emotions is to suppress them.
Because so many of you might make the same assumption, I thought that I ought to make a clear distinction between suppressing your feelings and getting rid of your feelings by dissolving the meaning that causes the feelings. These are totally different mental acts that produce totally different results.
It’s uncomfortable to experience negative emotions
If you experience an emotion that feels uncomfortable—one you wish you weren’t feeling, like fear, or deep grief, or overwhelming rage—there is a tendency to want to stop the feeling. It doesn’t feel good to have such a feeling, so we want it to go away.
The only way most people know of to make such emotions go away is to suppress them, in other words, to block them from our awareness. That can prove difficult to do, but even when we succeed, the suppressed emotion is likely to have negative psychological and physiological effects. We may not be consciously aware of the emotion, but it is still affecting both our behavior and our body.
Suppressing emotions doesn’t make them go away
Most of us probably have had the experience of “pushing away” our anger and then at some later time finding ourselves experiencing anger way out of proportion to an event. What happened is that we were “anger” waiting to happen and the first event that gave rise to anger opened up the floodgates to the anger we had been bottling up. In other words, the anger (or any other emotion) doesn’t go away; we just aren’t aware of it.
Dr. Lynda H. Powell, currently Professor and Chairperson, Department of Preventive Medicine, at Rush University, has done extensive research on the relationship between mental states and heart attacks. She points out that
What we’re starting to realize now is that anger and hostility are associated with coronary disease.
… Hostility and cynical mistrust are consistently associated with coronary artery disease. The constant ongoing vigilance associated with being mistrustful appears to promote coronary heart disease by speeding up the deposition on the atherosclerotic plaques on the walls of the arteries.
How we think this happens is that the hormones which enter the bloodstream during times of stress act to keep the sticky LDL Cholesterol, which is considered the bad type of cholesterol, circulating in the bloodstream longer, and this increases the rate of blockage of the coronary arteries.
But if negative emotions are dangerous, the solution is not to suppress them, as that does not make them go away. It only removes them from awareness and they keep affecting us psychologically and physically.
There is an alternative to suppressing emotions
The alternative is to distinguish the meanings we have automatically and unconsciously attributed to events, which are the source of our emotions, and then dissolve those meanings. When the source of most of our emotions—namely, the meanings we give events—is dissolved, then the emotions disappear also.
For example, if you ask someone to do something for you and he doesn’t do it, and you give it the meaning, “He doesn’t care about me,” you’ll probably feel upset. If you realize that his failure to get what you asked doesn’t necessarily mean that, that the event has no inherent meaning and you dissolve the meaning, the upset will disappear.
You can get walked through the Lefkoe Freedom Process for dissolving meaning in my TEDx talk.
The only thing better than learning how to dissolve meaning whenever you notice a negative emotion is dissolving meaning often enough that you bypass your brain’s meaning-making mechanism, so that you rarely give meaning to events. You also can get to the point where the few meanings that do sneak though can be dissolved automatically in a split-second.
If you don’t like experiencing negative emotions, there is an alternative to suppressing them. Try it today. It really works.
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Copyright © 2014 Morty Lefkoe