There’s no such thing as a wrong emotion

If I could tell you the number of times I’ve heard myself, my friends, and my clients say, “I shouldn’t feel this way.”

The thing is, there’s no right way to feel. Our emotions are cues. They tell us what’s going on in our internal world so that we can respond thoughtfully and strategically

Even if we wanted to, we can’t will ourselves to feel differently than we do. Trust me, I’ve tried 😆. When we try to push away an emotion or replace it with an emotion we’re not feeling, it inevitably comes out when we’re least expecting it — usually as aggression, withdrawal, or collapse.

Emotions themselves can’t be wrong, but certainly the actions we take in response can be harmful. Shouting at a loved one, hurting ourselves or others, and isolating ourselves from those who care about us, are all examples of ways we might act if we let our emotions take control.

So what do we do with ugly emotions we wish we weren’t feeling? How do we respond when we feel jealous of a friend, angry for “no good reason,” or disappointed about something we wish we didn’t care about? We can listen.

Listening to your emotions sounds so simple it’s almost dumb. But actually this is no easy task. Truly making room for your emotions, witnessing and honoring them no matter how disgusting they may seem to you, takes lots and lots of practice. Buddhist monks spend hours a day for years on end cultivating a practice of being with what is. Entire industries have evolved to support people in this task (including my own!).

So what are some accessible ways you can start making space for your emotions, even your ugly ones, right now?

  • Tell a neutral, supportive friend what you’re feeling
  • Journal about your emotion — give yourself permission to be as nasty or self-pitying as you want. Let it out!
  • Meditate. My favorite meditation app is Insight Timer — it has lots of free guided meditations for all experience levels, from three minutes to an hour.
  • Write a list of what you want to talk about at your next therapy session.
  • Go on a walk, inviting your feelings in with each step.

Allowing your emotions to communicate what they need may feel hard at first, but with time it will become second nature. As always, be gentle with yourself.