Sometimes it’s Good to Feel Bad. ~ Kristin Olson

Via on Mar 31, 2012

We don’t have to be happy all the time.

Through being involved in the yoga community, I’ve gained more Facebook friends. Sometimes, based on the posts in my news feed, you would think that no one ever had a bad day. Everyone seems to be eternally grateful and happy. Sometimes, this can result in readers feeling more upset about their own lives because everyone else’s lives seem so much better, which has been a topic recently researched. I’m all for the power of positive thinking, but I call BS at a certain point. People overly post the good things that happen and often do n0t want to talk about their negative feelings.

I should back up a bit. I do believe in positive thinking and how it can be helpful (if you keep reading I get back to it at the end). However, I feel that with all this emphasis on being grateful and positive thinking, it can be easy to overlook what negative emotions have to teach us. It can also make us feel like we should not have negative emotions or we are the only ones who have them.

Yoga and related traditions do not teach us that we have to be happy all the time. The idea is that we are not attached to our emotional states, positive or negative. We are working to be able to observe our feelings and let them go without becoming tangled in the emotions and pulled deeper into them. This is one example of the concept of non-attachment or vairagya.

In Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in psychology, one of the key tenets is that our thoughts drive our feelings, which in turn drive our behaviors, which then influence our thoughts, creating a cycle. One of the foci of CBT is identifying maladaptive thought patterns in order to break unhealthy cycles. Theoretically, if you can change your negative thoughts, you are able to decrease the maladaptive  feelings and resulting behaviors. This does not mean you do not have negative feelings; it means that you do not get pulled into a vortex of despair.

If you integrate Western psychology practices with Eastern philosophy, you can see where they overlap. If you are able to acknowledge your negative thoughts and feelings, you can possibly stop a more intense emotional reaction and subsequent behavior resulting from that emotion. To me, this is very similar to the concept of practicing non-attachment: you are witnessing and accepting your thoughts and feelings without reacting.

Sometimes I think you just need a good cry. Now, I realize research does not actually agree with the concept of catharsis with regards to emotions. For example, research shows that if you are angry and go out and start hitting a punching bag, instead of decreasing your anger it can actually increase it.

I have to say though, sometimes having a good cry or a mini temper-tantrum is really helpful for me. I think what this represents for me personally is the ability to acknowledge the emotion I am having (sadness, anger, etc.) and let myself really feel the feeling. Once I am able to get in touch with the feeling and let myself feel it, I am able to let it go. To me, this is different than keeping yourself in a state where you are feeding the negative emotion and dwelling in it (e.g., having a pity party for weeks on end after a break-up).

Where I think positive psychology and the power of positive thinking fit in with all of this goes back to this idea of how thoughts influence feelings and behavior. Focusing on gratitude and finding the positive allows us to not dwell or get stuck in negative feelings or patterns.

However, it is important to give yourself permission to have negative emotions or reactions when bad things occur. Observe the feeling and the situation and thoughts that caused it and what it brings up for you. By doing this, the emotion begins to lose power and you can let it go. Avoiding the emotion because you feel like you have to be positive or grateful only helps in the short run.

A great example is a recent post by Jennifer Pastiloff, one of my favorite yoga teachers. She frequently posts about manifesting what you want to occur and the power of positive thinking. She recently posted about her initial reaction when something did not go as expected. After having her feeling, she was able to identify the humor in the situation and not dwell on the negative. This did not mean that she did not have the negative feelings or ignore them though. By acknowledging the feelings, she was able to let them go. She also wrote a darn funny post. I can’t wait for my bracelet.

It is beneficial to focus on gratitude and noticing the positive. This leads to cultivating more positivity because you are bringing your awareness and attention to the good instead of dwelling on the bad. However, sometimes this is challenging. Bad things happen, things do not go according to plan or sometimes you just feel a little down. In those situations, by taking time to acknowledge your negative emotions and determine where they are coming from, you can gain clarity with regards to your actions. From that place, it is easier to find the positive in even the worst situations.

 

Kristin Olson grew up in Los Angeles playing competitive sports including swimming, soccer and gymnastics. She swam competitively in college, attending the Division III NCAA championships for 3 of her 4 years at Amherst College, where she majored in psychology. She started doing yoga in 2000 in hopes of repairing a nagging knee injury from high school. Not only did yoga help with her knee, but Kristin found it was much more physically and mentally challenging than she had thought it would be.

Once she started graduate school at George Washington University for her Ph.D. in Child Psychology in 2003, she found that not only did yoga provide numerous physical benefits, but it helped her manage her stress as well. She was so hooked on yoga that she completed her 200 hour Yoga Alliance approved training at Flow Yoga Center in Washington, DC in January 2006 and taught yoga and fitness classes there.

Kristin’s classes are Vinyasa Yoga, a faster paced style of yoga that focuses on linking breath and movement. Her class are playful and challenging, and incorporate both strength-building and relaxation. Kristin also provides an eclectic soundtrack including world beats, hip hop, R&B, jazz, soul and lots of laughter. She also works full-time as a child and family psychologist with at-risk children at a community mental health center.

~

Editor: Kate Bartolotta

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17 Responses to “Sometimes it’s Good to Feel Bad. ~ Kristin Olson”

  1. cit1 says:

    Thanks!

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  4. Robert says:

    excellent post.

  5. Yes, it can feel good to feel bad.

    Mostly, it is a matter of "heart intelligence"—a knowing that comes more from the essential self. The heart feels relief when personal truth is realized. Facing what is, before moving toward improvement, is the first step of improvement. We must start where we are. Clients of mine normally make two major mistakes in the whole deal. Getting stuck at what is (without moving forward), or trying to leap too far from now, to a big improvement in one giant step. ("I'm too evolved to get angry or hurt." Yeah, OK.)

    Heart intelligence (I know what is appropriate here, and feels true for me, based on WHO I am, regardless of what others are saying) is different from ego-based, cognitive feeling choice ("I can empathize because I know what my ego would feel like in your situation"). The former can yield decisions aligned with those of empathy or logic, or run against either one. The latter follows cognitive priorities placed on values and beliefs, and for feeling personality types, prioritizes feelings/values over material outcomes.

    Now, that said, there ARE personality types that will tend to enjoy a good wallow in some heavy ego-based feeling states, because it feels purposeful and like they are anchored in SOMETHING—and some of these folks can build a whole self image around drama at the ego level. My introduction excludes this type of enjoyment of "depth" (quotes intentional, because the depth in this case, is an illusion).

    BTW, research on catharsis is flawed, IMHO, because it does not take INTENT into consideration. Taking a cathartic action with the intent of release of anger, and of moving up the emotional scale, is not only effective, but powerful. Taking a cathartic action with no deliberate intent, or thinking of the thing that made you angry in the first place, can intensify it. Of course, not all catharis is created equal, and some are less, well, costly, than others, LOL.

    For example, doing some "journaling with a purpose" or some cognitive self-therapy with pen and pad can prove out as just effective a catharsis as hitting a punching bag, or throwing a public temper tantrum, with far less embarrassment, and/or remorse later on. :)

    And tears? I'm of the mind/heart that tears and laughter provide a similar relief of emotional resistance—what is most appropriate and effective will depend on conditions and the individual. The release of tears has a biological effect on the brain. There are complex biological reactions that take place when we cry. The tears of anger or hurt are chemically different from the tears that regularly lubricate our eyes, or cleanse them when something gets in our eye.

    • Kristin says:

      Thanks so much for the comment :)

      I didn't intend to imply that it feels GOOD to feel bad so much as there is merit in acknowledging and having the bad feelings. I meant that it can feel bad to have those feelings in the short run, but in the long run there is positive. I apologize for any confusion.

      I don't completely agree with catharsis research either. I was half-joking about having the temper tantrum; I've never had one in public. :) I think that being able to acknowledge and release the emotion can be helpful. It is about choosing a good way to do that for each individual.

      I think the point I was trying to get across with regards to the tears or mini temper tantrum was more about sitting with your negative emotions and not feeling as though you have to be happy or positive all the time.

      Again, thanks for your comments.

  6. Karrie says:

    Great article!

  7. Excellent point.

    Some people become attached to the feeling of being happy. While this sound like a good thing, it too has its problems like any sort of attachment. We only have to look at the Yoga Sutra and its discussion of Kleshas to understand this. When people become attached to those happy feelings, they avoid doing anything that may interfere with those feelings. Thus they may avoid confronting issues or not being able to see things as they truly are (Avidya) only because we want to see the "positive."

    Furthermore, I often see many yoga instructors trying so hard to put up the "look at me I am Miss Positive" face all the time. They do this for the ego (Asmita). Heaven forbid that they actually express a bit of disappoint or even have a sad moment. This would tarnish their image in the yoga community and they forever would be relegated to teaching yoga classes at the local YMCA.

    The whole spectrum of emotions are there to be experienced. What we do with them is what counts.

    • Kristin says:

      I agree. It's funny, one of the things I usually tell kids when I'm doing therapy is that "It's ok to be angry (or have whatever feeling). It's what you do with it from there." I loved that portion of your comment :)

      You make a great point about being attached to the feeling of happiness.

      Thanks for the comments!

  8. ManifestYogaJen says:

    LOve this and you.
    Thank you.

  9. [...] We all have those days; the days where everything goes wrong. [...]

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