Now here’s an odd idea: Could feeling bad be necessary for feeling good? What if feeling bad is actually required for changing our stories?
In a 2015 article in Psychology Today, Matthew Hutson says, “Negative emotions do us a great favor – they save us from ourselves. They’re signals urging us to change what we’re doing – and they’re actually necessary for feeling good.” (p. 44)
For most of us, actively changing our personal stories includes sweet periods of good feelings mixed with crashes into discouragement. Aspects of our stories are life-affirming, while other versions play havoc with our healthy sense of self. In high school, I was voted “Most Congenial Senior.” My classmates thought they were “honoring” me. But, on a deeper level, I knew this honor had a darker side. Unfortunately, I was nice to a fault. I was a “people-pleaser.” I simply let people have their way regardless of whether it was really OK with me. Sometimes, I didn’t even know whether it was OK with me.
I experienced a mix of feelings as a result of my people-pleasing – confusion, sadness, anger, depression, anxiety, shame, and embarrassment. Ultimately, those feelings grabbed my attention. Slowly, slowly, it dawned on me that people-pleasing behaviors made me feel bad, while they were making others feel good. I had a moment of clarity, an epiphany, when I knew I needed to change. “We have the wrong idea about emotions …” says Hutson “… they’re very rational; they are tools carved by eons of human experience to direct us where we need to go” (p. 47).
My emotions were showing me that I needed to stop people-pleasing. I didn’t want to spend my days pleasing others at the expense of my emotional well-being. At the root of it all, I lacked self-worth. I needed to go find my worthiness. (See JB Allyn’s post, Overt & Covert Messages and How They Affect Our Life Stories, for a perspective on self-esteem and self-worth and how the pictures in this post reflect them).
Parts of my childhood were tough. As a result, my sense of self-worth was lacking. At the time of my epiphany, I had no idea why I behaved as I did, how to change it, or where to find that worthiness. It has taken much soul-searching, psychological detective work, and perseverance. I have progressively unraveled this mystery for myself, reversing my people-pleasing dilemma.
Understanding the origin of my lack of worthiness was helpful, but changing my story was what was important and necessary. I used various techniques:
- Observing without judgment (See my earlier post, Observing Our Thoughts, Not Judging Them)
- Imaging my powerful and worthy future self
- Experimenting with trying on new behaviors
Through this process, I was able to find my worthiness and to shift my self-story into one that was much more authentic. There was no more room for people-pleasing. Odd as it seemed to me, feeling bad did lead to feeling good.
What negative emotions are you wrestling with? How are these emotions urging you to change your behaviors and grow your stories to healthier ones? How might you enlist your inner detective to move yourself forward in the ways that bring you self-worth and joy?
Hutson, Matthew, “Beyond Happiness: The Upside of Feeling Down,” Psychology Today, January/February 2015.
Note: In this post, the author, Diane H. Engelman, is not directly or indirectly giving psychological or medical advice. Nor is she prescribing the use of any technique to treat medical, physical, or emotional problems. The author intends only to offer information of a general nature that may assist you in seeking personal growth. If you choose to use any of the information the author presents, she assumes no responsibility for your choices or actions.