NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Sunday, March 22, 2020

Resilience: Accepting Your Negative Emotions During a Crisis

During times of crisis, it's common for people to experience negative emotions (see my article: Overcoming Your Fear of Negative EmotionsAllowing Yoursel fto Feel Your Feelings So You Can Heal and Developing a More Resilient Self in Therapy).

Resilience: Accepting Your Negative Emotions Duirng a Crisis
These negative emotions include:
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Panic 
  • Sadness
  • Depression
  • Grief
  • Self doubt  
  • Anger
  • A sense of foreboding about the future
  • Confusion
  • And other negative emotions
Although it's not pleasant to experience these emotions, acknowledging and accepting these emotions is an important step to working through them and getting to the other side to develop a more resilient self (see my article: Changing Maladaptive Coping Strategies That No Longer Work For You: Avoidance).

When you resist feeling your negative emotions, these emotions intensify and become stronger.  They also have a way of surfacing in other ways that you might be unaware of, including:
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Back problems
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Insomnia
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Heart problems
  • Asthma
  • Premature aging
  • Other stress-related health problems

How to Cope With Negative Emotions
  • Rather than trying to avoid feeling your negative emotions, acknowledge them.  
  • Recognize that your emotions aren't facts and that they might be fleeting, especially if you don't try to ignore them.
  • Recognize that everyone has negative emotions at some point.  Don't judge yourself for your emotions.  
  • Rather than struggling against your negative emotions, accept your emotions as being an experience that you're having at the moment.
  • Write down your emotions in a journal so that these emotions don't overwhelm you (see my article: Journal Writing Can Help to Relieve Stress and Anxiety).
  • If you find you can't manage your negative emotions on your own, seek help from a licensed psychotherapist who can help you to work through your feelings (see my article: Therapy Can Help You to Stop Avoiding Negative Emotions).

Resilience: Accepting Your Negative Emotions During an Emotional Crisis
The following vignette illustrates the benefit of accepting and acknowledging negative emotions:

After his wife, Carol, told him that she was unhappy in their marriage and she might want a divorce, Tom tried to persuade Carol to try to work through their issues.  He tried to reason with her that they had invested 10 years into their marriage and their divorce would be devastating for their two young children.

Although he knew they had been having problems, especially when he had to work long hours at his job and Carol felt unsupported at home, Tom assumed that he and Carol would eventually work things out.  But she expressed doubt about working out their issues.

Initially, he was shocked.  He felt like he was living through a nightmare and he would wake up at any moment from this bad dream.

After a week, he felt an overwhelming sense of anxiety and sadness.  So, he tried to distract himself by getting more involved in his work.  He spent even more time in his office than usual, which only annoyed Carol even more.

But late at night, he had problems falling asleep.  In the morning, he was exhausted and he developed digestive problems.  He also developed headaches that were so debilitating that he had to stay home from work, which left him a lot of time to think about his marital problems.

When Tom could no longer tolerate his health problems, he saw his medical doctor, who ruled out any physical problems.  He suggested that Tom seek help in therapy to deal with the stress and anxiety related to his problems with Carol.

At first, Tom told his medical doctor that he didn't want to "dwell" on his problems--he wanted to distract himself from them.

But his medical doctor, who was knowledgeable about the mind-body connection, told Tom that he was having all of these physical symptoms precisely because he was trying to avoid feeling them, and the only way for Tom to get a handle on his emotions was to work through them in therapy, "Your mind and your body are connected.  When you try to suppress feeling your emotions, they're going to come out in some other way--including getting you physically sick."

So, somewhat reluctantly, Tom sought help in therapy.  Even though it was painful to talk about his anxiety and sadness about his marriage, he realized that he also felt better after his therapy sessions.

Tom felt a positive connection with his therapist.  He also felt emotionally supported by her so that he no longer felt alone and that he had to carry these feelings by himself.  She suggested that he keep a journal to write down his feelings between therapy sessions, which he found helpful.

Shotly after he began therapy, Tom realized that he worked long hours on his job to avoid Carol and how inadequate he felt as a husband and a father. He also realized that he no longer wanted to distract himself with work.  He preferred to deal with his emotions as they came up and talk to his therapist about them in their sessions.

So, Tom stopped volunteering to do extra projects at work and spent more time at home.  Since he was home more, he spent more time with his children and helping Carol around the house, which she appreciated.  This resulted in their getting along better, and Tom realized that he could be a good husband and father.

Tom realized that Carol was no longer talking to him about the possibility of getting a divorce, so he asked her if she would like to go out for dinner at her favorite restaurant.  To his surprise, she accepted his invitation and they had a good time--something they had not experienced together in several years.

Soon after that, Carol suggested that she take the children to her mother's house for the weekend so she and Tom could spend quiet time together.  It was the first time in a long time that they were sexually intimate and enjoyed being together.

Throughout this period, Tom continued to go to his individual therapy sessions, and he was starting to feel hopeful again.  Whenever anxiety, sadness or self doubt surfaced for him, he followed his therapist's recommendation to acknowledge his feelings, accept them and to recognize that they were just feelings and "feelings aren't facts."

Tom also continued to write in his journal between therapy sessions and felt a sense of relief each time that he poured his feelings out in writing.

At his therapist's suggestion, he spoke to Carol about attending couples therapy to work through issues that still remained, including Carol's concern that Tom's workaholism would become a problem again.  To his surprise, Carol agreed to give it a try.

Tom's therapist recommended an Emotionally Focused Couples therapist to work through their issues, and within a few weeks, they were making progress (see my article: What is Emotionally Focused Therapy For Couples?).

Although Tom regretted that he had wasted so much time trying to avoid his negative emotions, he was also relieved that he had learned to accept them.  He felt himself becoming more resilient to deal with his marital problems as well as other problems that came up in his family.

Attending Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples (EFT) gave Tom and Carol the necessary tools to work through their problems and, over time, it strengthened their relationship.

During his individual therapy sessions, Tom began to feel much more hopeful that his marriage with Carol would work out.

Resilience: Accepting Your Negative Emotions Duirng a Crisis

Tom's increased sense of hopefulness and resilience created an upward spiral for him as an individual as well as in his relationship with Carol.

Even though this article focused on relationship issues, the strategies recommended in this article can apply to any situation where you feel inundated by negative emotions and you're tempted to try to avoid them (see my article: Resilience: Bouncing Back From Life's Ups and Downs).

Getting Help in Therapy
We all need help sometimes.

If you're negative emotions are overwhelming you, you could benefit from seeking help from a licensed therapist, who can help you to develop the necessary tools to deal with your emotions and become more resilient to cope with your problems.

Rather than suffering on your own, seek help from a licensed mental health professional in your area.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples (EFT couples therapy).

During the current health crisis, phone sessions or online therapy sessions are available for clients in New York State.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.