Accepting Unwanted Emotions

Emotions: according to the dictionary, the definition of an emotion is, “a conscious mental reaction (such as anger or fear) subjectively experienced as strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological and behavioral changes in the body”.

But emotions serve us in a variety of ways.  For example, they give us valuable messages (e.g., fear in an unsafe situation), reveal how important something is to us (e.g., you have stronger emotions in your romantic relationship than you do when you’re shopping for cereal or having a casual conversation with a stranger), and prompt us to act (e.g., you stroke a partner’s face with love or turn away from spoiled food in disgust).

But the story of emotions is a bit more delicate and complex, as it isn’t simply about what we feel in response to what happens around us.  We tirelessly size up our inner world and place value judgments on it.  Depending on the circumstances we’re in and the messages we’ve received along the way about what we’re allowed to feel, emotions (or at least certain ones) may get tagged as acceptable, healthy, or reasonable, or they might get labeled as wrong, crazy, or threatening.  For instance, researchers at the University of Oxford highlighted the following categories of disapproving beliefs when it comes to painful emotions:

  • Emotions are too powerful and can’t be managed.

  • Emotions are bad and/or ridiculous.

  • Emotions are defective and make no sense.

  • Emotions are unproductive.

  • My emotions could sabotage me or other people.

  • My emotions might spread to other people and I can’t let that happen. 

What’s thorny about this is that if we have a negative outlook on our emotions, we’ve got a whole new load to carry—we’re more likely to have another negative emotion layered on top of the one we’re already experiencing.  The emotions we have about how we feel are known as meta-emotions.  For example, let’s say we see sadness as a sign of personal weakness and inadequacy.  Because of this viewpoint, we might feel shame or fear in response to our sadness.  And it’s not just uncomfortable emotions that get a bad rap.  People can feel nervous about pleasant emotions too.

Our ideas about our emotional life don’t just impact how we feel about our emotions, but the steps we take to respond to them as well.  To illustrate, let’s stay with our example of sadness.  We regard it as a signal that we’re weak and defective in some way, and this idea stirs up intense shame. The big question now: What do we do with all of this?  Considering that we’re treating sadness as intolerable and we feel ashamed of it, we’re relatively unlikely to talk about it with someone else, to be kind to ourselves in the face of it, or to allow ourselves to feel sad and see what happens.  No, instead we’re probably going to be more inclined to react to sadness in other ways, such as:

  • Mentally beating ourselves up for feeling it

  • Racking our brains over why we feel this way and why we can’t get over it and feel happy like everyone seems to feel

  • Trying to cover it up when we’re around other people

  • Self-medicating with alcohol or other substances

How we choose to respond to our emotions also has an impact on how we feel and on our quality of life.  If we criticize ourselves all the time, that harsh voice gets stronger and we’ll continue unintentionally manufacturing more shame.  We could mull over why we feel the way we do and question why we can’t make it go away, but this approach is more likely to leave us feeling even worse.  If we try to hide our sadness and mask what feels so unspeakable, we’re liable to bear the cost of this strategy, experiencing more distress, less comfort, and more detached relationships.  And although we can try to escape through alcohol and other substances, this opens the door to use disorders and other problems.

There are a variety of other ways in which rejecting what we feel sets the stage for giving us more of the very thing we don’t want.  For instance, when people are scared of emotions, this forecasts difficulty managing anger, feeling more upset, drawing from pleasant memories to feel better, and symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  Moreover, people who view uncomfortable emotions as bad are also less likely to be empathic toward themselves.  And the idea that painful emotions are hazardous is related to lower odds of naming such emotions for one’s children, a valuable step in emotional skill-building. 

So if it doesn’t serve us to treat our emotions as off-limits, what’s the alternative?  When we accept distressing emotions as being a universal, natural part of life, it’s ironically linked to experiencing them less and, in the long run, having better emotional health.

But why might this be?  Why would accepting the emotions we don’t want generally be connected with them dwindling rather than growing?  Researchers have proposed several possible explanations:

  • Rumination can make people feel worse, and individuals who accept upsetting emotions don’t tend to ruminate over them as much.

  • Efforts to avoid what a person feels can go awry and have a boomerang effect, furnishing them with more of what they tried to push away.

  • Individuals who accept their emotions may be spared an extra layer of emotional pain by not having to feel upset about feeling upset.  

  • Disquieting emotions that we meet with acceptance are less likely to have as much staying power.

Acceptance is a mindset, an approach of giving ourselves permission to experience our emotions and taking the perspective that they’re human rather than silly, weak, crazy, wrong, dangerous, or beyond our power to ever be able to manage.  It’s about challenging that self-critical inner voice that says we can’t feel what we do, or that an emotion will harm us or be a badge of our inherent fault or shame.  Acceptance is about giving ourselves the space to listen to ourselves in a nonjudgmental way.  


Read the full article on Psychology Today.


If you live in the Los Angeles or Westlake Village area and are interested in therapy, I invite you to contact me via email at: tanyasamuelianmft@yahoo.com . I provide a complimentary consultation. Check out my services to see which one might fit your needs. Contact me now to see if we might be a good fit to work together! Or book your appointment here!

Dear Diary...

Writing down your feelings is a powerful tool for relationships because by doing it, you get to know the number-one most important person in your life: yourself. The quality of any romantic relationship is going to be directly correlated to your own self-worth. You are the person you really need to get to know, and journaling is a great ally in that process.

Writing can help you tune in to your inner voice and appreciate who you are—in other words, your journal shouldn’t just be a dumping ground for frustrations about your partner. (Although that can definitely be helpful in some situations, like if you need to have a talk with them and want to organize your thoughts.) Rather, you can also look at it as a place to dig deep into who you are and what you want.

Here are a few journal prompts that can help take a person’s relationships to the next level, whether single or attached.

Journal Prompts for Single People

The perfect day visualization: A big roadblock people come up against when dating is that they don’t really know what they want. And if you’re not clear on your endgame, you risk wasting time and energy on people who ultimately aren’t going to be the best fit for you.

To find that clarity, try this two-part journaling exercise. First, take a little time to dream about what [your ideal] partnership looks like and feels like. These prompts can help get you started, but feel free to be creative here:

  • Journal out a whole day spent with this person. What does it feel like when you wake up together? Where do you go? What do you do? Really dig in and get specific.

  • Keep coming back to how it feels physically and emotionally. Are you energized? Does it give you a sense of safety? Are you having fun?

Next, use the intel gleaned from your perfect-day visualization to make a list of qualities you want to prioritize in a partner. What are the nonnegotiables for you?

The post-date debrief: One of the ickier aspects of dating-app culture is that it can make a person feel like they’re on a job interview, and it’s easy to put too much focus on the performance aspect. We’ve all fallen down the rabbit hole of self-doubt. But this is the absolute wrong approach. We’re often so preoccupied with being chosen that it’s easy to forget that you are picking your partner, as well.

You can use your journal to flip the script. Don’t just get caught up in the ‘shiny object’ aspects of their persona or appearance, ask yourself about the qualities they exhibited and if those are in alignment with what’s most important to you. Here are some things she suggests you journal about after a date:

  • How did your evening make you feel?

  • What did you enjoy about spending time with this person (or not)?

  • Did they make you feel good or kick up insecurities?

It’s not about judging your date. It’s about being connected with yourself through the dating process and assessing whether you two humans are a good fit for one another. You might be surprised to realize that person you were hoping to impress isn’t actually that impressive themselves!

Journal Prompts if You’re in a Relationship

The stress-buster: Stress is a major relationship buzzkill—if you’re obsessing over your to-do list or a conflict with someone at work, it’s hard to be present with your partner. Compounding this is the fact that self-care can often take a backseat when you’re coupled up. It erodes the foundation of the relationship long-term, because you both need to be taking care of yourselves in order to have the energy and clarity to take care of each other.

Here’s how you can use your journal to calm your mind and clear mental space for your S.O.

  • At night in bed, jot down a list of everything you want to get out of your head. This might help you sleep better—and wake up knowing exactly what priorities you need to tackle the next day. (That way, you’re not thinking about them during quality time with your bedmate.)

  • In the morning, do a free-write for at least four minutes and see what comes up on the page. Think of it like a juice cleanse for your brain.

The self-love party: Let’s be honest: One of the perks of being in a relationship is having someone constantly tell you how great they think you are. But if you’re solely looking to your partner to validate you, you’re likely heading down a sketchy path. We aren’t going to get all our needs met by a significant other. That’s unreasonable and unrealistic.

If you find that your moods peak and dip based on the amount of attention you’re getting from your plus-one, try giving yourself the gratuitous praise you’re seeking. Make a list of the things that you appreciate about yourself, and not a short list! Go for at least 50: traits, body parts, habits, you name it. Like how you set the dining room table? Include it. Think you have lovely feet, claim it. Love how you are a good friend to x person? Celebrate it. It’ll take the pressure off your partner to be the president of your fan club—but, more importantly, it can help you fall a little deeper in love with you.

Read the full article on Well+Good.


If you live in the Los Angeles or Westlake Village area and are interested in therapy, I invite you to contact me via email at: tanyasamuelianmft@yahoo.com . I provide a complimentary consultation. Check out my services to see which one might fit your needs. Contact me now to see if we might be a good fit to work together! Or book your appointment here!






Unpacking Emotional Baggage

When dealing with emotional baggage, you are constantly struggling under the weight of baggage, bad filters, and triggers. In any situation, nothing that is said is evaluated objectively. Everything is going through a filter that distorts the original message. It stops being about the content of the message, and instead becomes about our perceptions of the sender, and more importantly, about us. We have let ourselves get to the point where we're not really hearing anymore, we're just judging. If you've reached this point with someone, it's time to unpack your baggage.

Here are a few things that contribute to the problem and understanding them is important tp changing the situation:

  • Your brain processes most information using primitive filters looking only for the most basic information about threats that should be attended to.

  • Attention errors make it likely that you'll pay more attention and give weight to information that confirms your original point of view.

  • You don’t get to hear the intent of people’s messages; you only to get hear how their words come out and to feel how the message impacts you. The disconnect between intent and impact is at the heart of many strained relationships.

Start with a Positive Assumption

The next time you react to something someone else says, turn the situation on its head. Start with a positive assumption, rather than a negative one. Instead of assuming that a person is attacking you, start by assuming they are adding value.

  • Instead of having your normal reaction to what is said, really think about it. Repeat what they said in your head before responding. Think about the words, without reading between the lines or thinking about the back story. Hear the words coming out of someone else’s mouth—how do you interpret them now?

  • Pay attention to the positive, rather than the negative components of the message. Did the person start with a compliment and then share some constructive feedback? Focus on the compliment for a moment. Let it soak in.

  • Think about the possible positive intentions they might have had. How might the person have been trying to help? What were they trying to get at? What value are their comments adding?

If you start with a negative assumption, you waste all the value that others could be providing.  A positive assumption is the only thing that gives you a chance.

If you live in the Los Angeles/Westlake Village area and are interested in understanding your emotional baggage and unpacking them, I invite you to contact me via email at: tanyasamuelianmft@yahoo.com . I provide a complimentary consultation. Contact me now to see if we might be a good fit to work together! Or book your appointment now!