Many people view emotions like fear, anxiety, frustration and resentment in a negative light because they are stressful. Stress wears down the body and negatively impacts relationships.
On the other hand, people want to be validated and accepted for what they are feeling. They need to know that someone understands and cares.
Taking these two aspects into account, how should you view emotions that don’t feel very positive?
Uncomfortable emotions signal that something is wrong. That’s a good thing. The problem is when they no longer signal a specific threat but flash all the time, creating chronic emotional stress.
Chronic stress is created in one of two ways:
a) When you try to suppress your feelings
b) When you become enslaved to your feelings
Suppressing feelings does not work. You cannot force yourself not to feel. As long as you do not let them go, they will stay. The benefit of verbalizing feelings, giving them a name and crying is that the feelings are released and emotional stress is reduced.
But talking obsessively about feelings is just as damaging as holding them in. Instead of getting the problem off their chest they put the problem back in.
People nowadays tend to wallow in their feelings more than they suppress them. Therefore, logotherapy views emotional expression as a means to release the person’s blocks so that they are free to express their spiritual potential (The Therapist and the Soul, Elisabeth Lukas, p. 56).
However, when expressing feelings becomes the main part of therapy, then this too, becomes a block. The role of the therapist is not to say ‘Yes, you are so right to be bitter’ and reinforce the bitter feelings, but to say, ‘What is this problem requiring you to do?’
Thus, the way you relate to feelings in Logotherapy depends on your assessment. Does the person need a listening ear and a safe space to vent right now, or is the person being consumed by his or her feelings?
I find it helpful relate to my feelings as if they are a child. You listen. But you don’t let them drive the family car. When they become the driver, you follow their dictates. You convince yourself that you are a victim of circumstance and have no freedom to decide how you will shape your life. Instead, when you are the guide, you let your emotions be, and they calm down. By allowing yourself to experience them, they move through you and dissipate.
But the goal is not only to let go of emotions or to avoid excessive ruminating.
What are emotions? Emotions are our reaction to our understanding of reality. (Thanks to Avraham Friedman for this definition.) And our understanding may be wrong.
The logotherapist helps the person to ‘see reality as it is’, to visualize what ‘ought to be’ and to recoil from what ‘ought not to be.’ Logotherapy is a reality check.
Once the misperception that made you feel your life is worthless is corrected, you naturally feel joy, hope and faith. Happiness can’t be forced. You need a reason to be happy. This is what makes the attitude of gratitude so powerful.
In addition to false perceptions of truth there are true perceptions of falsehood. Maybe you’ve been betrayed. Maybe you’ve lost your source of income. Maybe you have a devastating disease. If the world is collapsing on you, it is a really good sign that you’re feeling upset!
But when you bring meaning into it, emotions serve a transformative function. Your response is guided by the emotional message without the emotional charge. You are angry and hurt, and you want to bring it to the person’s attention because you care too much about the relationship to allow the hurt feelings to drive a wedge between you.
Life is always guiding you. As soon as you bring in awareness of what opportunity this life situation is inviting you to, the clouds lift. You say, ‘Oh, I never saw it that way before.’ New awareness creates a radical shift in perspective and with that, a radical shift in feeling.