The Negative Consequences to Always Being Positive
Dr. Natalie Flatt Ph.D
Connect Psych Services
With sayings such as ‘she’ll be right, ‘its’ all good’ and ‘no worries’ part of our daily vernacular, it seems that our society rates positivity highly and is used to dismissing real emotions. Whether that is due to not wanting to deep dive into what’s bothering you or throwing it into ‘the all too hard’ basket; stifling challenging emotions doesn’t make them go away and can end up coming back in more ways than one. Many of us grew up with the message that you should not show your emotions, so we attempt to ignore or suppress them. With negative emotions, that doesn’t go very well for us. We either internalise them (resulting in anger, resentment, depression, and resignation) or we externalise them and blame, discount, or projection onto others. These create a “train carriage” and accumulate over time.
Studies continue to highlight the physical impact of withholding emotions and the connections with cancer, heart disease, stomach issues, weight issues, and premature death.
But what about our mental health?
There have been numerous studies showing that when we don’t regulate or ignore our emotions, we can experience both short-term and long-term mental reactions as well.
No one likes to experience challenging emotions such as humiliation, disappointment, sadness, or anger, but not acknowledging and avoiding how you feel can have negative consequences. Suppressing an emotion can involve suppressing the memory of an experience that has caused you discomfort. However, it’s highly difficult to forget a memory on purpose, and a ‘pink elephant in the room’ can appear and your mind will work overtime.
As a psychologist, I get it: Listening to our emotions is scary and can feel highly confronting. Many of us have spent most of our lives avoiding them, so why on earth would you want to feel them all at once? This is not ideal either as It can create too much confusion. Instead, I suggest to clients educate themselves on the science of emotions and practice self-regulation of each emotion. The goal is to go slowly, allowing yourself to become aware of certain feelings and creating the correct name for the emotion. This enables you to gain confidence in the space of Acceptance and Commitment and create a sense of control over your own reactions, allowing for increased resilience and esteem. Self-awareness takes courage. It’s brave and can often be confronting and uncomfortable. It’s also not fun to wonder where your flaws you’re not aware of are lying dormant. It’s often easier to avoid the topic altogether.
The benefits of therapy are different for everyone. Regardless of the improvements and changes clients experience, for most people increased self-awareness seems to be a core component of why therapy works, at least anecdotally. This makes sense because self-awareness is the launching pad for understanding ourselves and our relationships better, taking better care of our mental health and wellbeing, and living a life that feels fulfilling and expansive.
This R U OK day, checking in on your own self-awareness is a must. And we are here to listen; anytime, anywhere.