#Askingforafriend: Emotions aren’t the problem (Part 1)

March 02, 2021 / by / 0 Comment

By Nicholas Rudgear
GCU Office of Student Care

As a professional mental health counselor, I hear it all the time from my clients: “If only I could just stop feeling (insert emotion).”

It’s no secret the experience of our emotions can be a huge source of confusion, frustration and pain. Desiring relief from those feelings is often what brings us to counseling in the first place.  And what a good thing, for counseling is absolutely the place to address these troubling emotions.

In fact, some of my favorite clients are those who come in saying, “If I could just stop feeling …” I can’t help but smile when I hear that familiar phrase, probably because I see myself in them so clearly; I, too, have said that before, wishing I could turn off specific emotions like a light switch. If I can make it stop, go away or change it, then the discomfort stops and the problem is “solved.”

However, my personal and professional experience has taught me that eliminating specific emotions isn’t possible, nor is the solution to our distress. But that is what clients are asking for when they wish they could stop feeling something.

You see, emotions in and of themselves are not the problem. And if we continue to see them as the problem, we’re going to struggle to engage with them in healthier ways to obtain that relief we want.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean that the discomfort, pain or confusion about emotions isn’t real or that it is wrong to want relief. It just means relief may look different than what we envisioned.

While there are many different theories regarding emotions, the simple truth is that they are a registered sensation in the body, typically prompted by a stimulus. They are a mechanism for the body to communicate information, much like other sensations communicate information (e.g., fatigue, thirst, hunger, etc.).

Emotions are a normal, valid and essential means by which we can engage with the world. Excising them like a tumor because they are uncomfortable deprives us of valuable information about ourselves, others and the world. It also diminishes the full experience of our humanity; to be human is to be emotional.  

If emotions aren’t the problem but my distress is real, then what is the solution? What does relief look like? In my next post, I will provide an overview of ways we can receive the information our emotions are communicating, reduce distress and make more effective choices in response to our emotional experiences.

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