return from lake 22

tolerating our dark emotions

i continue to sing the praises of the pixar movie, inside out. i have made so many fruitful discoveries since i saw the movie. it has been a powerful and learning process for me since seeing the movie.

for those of you who don’t know, inside out is about the emotions living inside the head of an eleven year old and how those responses color her world. i still shake my head in amazement that a supposed “kids” movie could do such and excellent treatment of emotions and emotional responses.

imageafter the movie, while my friend and i discussed the movie, she made the point that every emotion has a purpose. for example, the purpose of fear is protection from that the scares us, anger’s purpose is to a call for justice or fairness and guilt’s purpose is a call to right a wrong.

yesterday, i did some web searches for, “purpose for <insert emotion here>”. i was amazed at the wealth of information that exist on the purposes of different emotions! one disappointment is the search for the purpose of happiness and joy. Most results get tanglds up with the purpose of life is to experience happiness and/or joy.

i poked around at some different emotions that have played an integral part of my recent life. I searched on “the purpose of despair” and found this article that totally blew my mind on the purpose of emotions. the author, Miriam Greenspan, did and excellent job of explaining the purpose of the dark emotions, how society gets the treatment of these emotions wrong since there is an “emotion-phobia” of the dark emotions, how that effects individuals, and eventually screws up society. Here are a few quotes the struck me.

Emotions like grief, fear and despair are as much a part of the human condition as love, awe and joy,” says psychotherapist Miriam Greenspan. “Each of these emotions is purposeful.

“But it’s not the emotions themselves that are the problem; it’s our inability to bear them mindfully.

Every dark emotion has a value and purpose. There are no negative emotions; there are only negative attitudes towards emotions we don’t like and can’t tolerate, and the negative consequences of denying them. The emotions we call “negative” are energies that get our attention, ask for expression, transmit information and impel action. Grief tells us that we are all interconnected in the web of life, and what connects us also breaks our hearts. Fear alerts us to protect and sustain life. Despair asks us to grieve our losses, to examine and transform the meaning of our lives, to repair our broken souls. Each of these emotions is purposeful and useful-if we know how to listen to them.

imageThe article discusses 3 basic skills when dealing with emotions; attending to, befriending and surrendering to emotions that make us uncomfortable. it also discusses a seven step process of tolerating our dark emotions; 1) intention, 2) affirmation, 3) sensation, 4) contextualization, 5) the way of non-action, 6) the way of action, and 7) the way of surrender.

i have done the development of the ideas a great disservice by delivering only the bullet points. the article does do an excellent jobs of developing these ideas further.

So if you would like to know more about your dark emotions and how to attend, to, befriend and surrender to them, do take the time to read this well-developed article.

12 thoughts on “tolerating our dark emotions

    1. bipolarsojourner Post author

      you know what my favorite part of the movie was? probably not, so let me tell you.

      it is when the purple “elephant” sat on the edge of the cliff all sad. then sadness cluttered up to him and let him know it was okay to be sad and delivered some acknowledging word. that made my heart sing, both times I saw it.

      i bet you think i’m weird, huh.

    2. bipolarsojourner Post author

      btw, i updated the post so there is now a working link to the article i mentioned. if you thought my stuff was interesting, the article is well worth the read.

  1. nina

    Printed and saving Miriam Greenspan’s article…a keeper and will pass along. So awesomely done so thank you for sharing:) Too often people do not like to wonder in the dark. I encourage them, sharing that God hold up a pen light helping me find many treasures as I embrace the adventure. I have learned to respect suffering in a whole new light though it may only be a pen light:) I loved inside out!! and your writing… “Every dark emotion has a value and a purpose” Amen

    1. bipolarsojourner Post author

      welcome back! good to hear from you.

      in my analogy, god has a spotlight. we have glasses that obscure our vision and make it seem like penlights and even no light at all. through our work, we can scrape away a little bit more of the blackness and let in a little bit more of the spotlight. the ultimate goal would be to see the world through perfectly unoccluded vision.

    1. bipolarsojourner Post author

      thanks for the comment and the follow.

      i had a friend who didn’t particularly like the movie. i think she didn’t get it. when i described the main idea, that all emotions serve a purpose, she said, “I get it.”

  2. Jean

    What a gift your post and Miriam Greenspan’s article is for me! Thank you.

    Two key issues jumped out at me: Anger and grief. From Ms. Greenspan’s words:
    “When we are unable to feel our fear mindfully, we turn it into anger.”
    “Its unintended emotional intolerance often greets those who grieve, especially if they so openly.”
    Grieving. How often, particularly after a major trauma, I didn’t give myself permission to grieve. And with each horrific event, came increasing fears. And now . . . anger. Lots of anger seething under a cheesy smile and begging to be acknowledged.

    The 7-step process also offers an opportunity to see the darkness as it arises. Previously, I’d made the mistake of first approaching the darker emotions with an attitude of “surrender,” and here “surrender” is indicated as the 7th and last step. No surprise that those mindfulness efforts were so scattered and circular.

    Thanks again. This was most insightful for me.

    1. bipolarsojourner Post author

      wow, i’ve read the article many of times and mindfully feeling fear had never jumped out to me before. i don’t know how I could have missed it but i can see why my life goes the way it goes sometimes because of that statement. lots of fear in my life and very little of it lived mindfully. going to have to look at the seven steps again.

      grief happens with everything from losing a favorite paper clip on to a job, up to losing someone near and dear to you such as a sibling, child, mother, father or loved one. hell, once i even grieved the loss of some bacon grease—long story. just making the point that grief comes with loss. the more the object or person has made a way into a heart, the more the heart tears as it or they leave. with more damage done to the heart, the more time will be required for grieving. then throw in the part that miriam said about unlived grief leading to fear leading to anger. i better get out the seven steps again!


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