"If you rid of all your baggage you will likely float away. But you can't know beauty if you don't know pain."
- Craig Minowa
Like exit signs on a highway, our emotions are meant to come and go. Most of us want pleasant feelings to last forever, while we fear painful ones will never go away. Unfortunately, good feelings are not meant to last. Fortunately, bad ones aren't either! Like the weather, our emotional states are in constant flux. The more we are willing to be with painful feelings as they arise, the faster they resolve themselves.
So how do we do this? Every dark feeling has a voice. Each voice tells a story. Each story feels real but is not true. Identifying the stories of your dark emotions without interpreting them as facts about yourself is a crucial step toward unconditional self-love.
So what are some of the dark emotions and how can you recognize them? Let's take a look:
1. Fear: Fear usually keeps our minds occupied with infinite questions or statements that start with "What if." Like a hamster on a wheel, we travel the cul-de-sac of worry hoping, this time, it will lead somewhere different. I like to think of worry as the mind's innocent way convincing itself it can prevent bad things from happening. I have yet to witness a tragedy preempted by worry, but I have seen it rob plenty of joy in the present moment. There is no such thing as a fearful person; only a person who feels fear.
2. Self doubt: Self-doubt is often the conclusion we draw as a result of fear. We are faced with something unfamiliar, we feel afraid, and, sometimes tell ourselves we simply cannot do it. Fear and self-doubt are constant traveling companions: where you find one, you find the other. When we are afraid, it is hard to trust our capability. There is no such thing as a an incapable person; only a person who feels self-doubt.
3. Hopelessness: Our own personal harbinger of doom, hopelessness suggests it is pointless to try anything because nothing will work. Keep an ear out for "always" and "never" (e.g., "Things will never change." or, "I will always feel this way."). These are signs hopelessness is on board. Try and remember that wherever you are is just a stop along the highway; it will pass. There is no such thing as a hopeless person; only a person who feels hopeless.
4. Guilt: Guilt shows up on the scene when we believe we have done something wrong. It beckons us to look closer at how we are behaving but it is not always an indication of wrongdoing. The next time you notice yourself thinking or saying, "I feel badly about...," ask yourself if you are willfully disrespecting yourself, your fellow humans or their personal property. If so, then let guilt be the impetus for changing your behavior. If not, you've suffered enough. Consider forgiving yourself for whatever it is you are telling yourself you could or should have done differently. There is no such thing as a guilty person; only a person who feels guilty.
5. Regret: Regret is predicated on the impossible: the ability to undo what's been done. It assumes we could have or should have known better. Pay attention to the next time you start a thought or sentence with, "If only I..," or "What was I thinking?" Replace these statements with, "I did the best I could with the information I had when I decided [insert your choice here]. I learned from this decision. I choose to move forward by letting go of all regret associated with this choice."
There is no "better." Even when it brings us hardship, every choice is a learning opportunity. Each prior action has helped you become the person you are now. In this moment, exactly as you are, you are worthy of your own love and acceptance.
There is no such thing as a regretful person; only a person who feels regret.
6. Envy: Envy is meant to focus our attention on what is missing from our lives. It burns as we witness someone else manifesting things we want but don't have. It is often met with guilt and dismissed with judgment: "It is wrong to feel this way when something good happens to someone I love." Acknowledge envy without allowing yourself to act upon it in an unloving way. Sharing in others' joy will generate more of your own. There is no such thing as an envious person; only a person who feels envy.
7. Jealousy: Jealousy is the child inside who divides the world into factions of "mine" and "not mine." He feels threatened when he sees his "possessions" allotted to another. This child needs only to be reminded there is plenty of love to go around. Though we often feel least deserving of loving reassurance when we feel jealous, this is actually a time when we most need it. There is no such thing as a jealous person; only a person who feels jealousy.
7. Shame: Shame tells us seductive stories about our value: we are not this enough, we are too that, or why can't we be different altogether? No dark emotion runs quite as deep as shame. Its roots extend back to a time we were made to feel insignificant by people who were supposed to love and accept us. Shame is a skilled orator--it spins a sticky and convincing web of lies about our worth. Don't believe these lies! You are worthy. You are deserving. You are lovable. There is no such thing as a shameful person; only a person who feels shame.
All emotions deserve a sympathetic and loving ear. Hold your dark emotions with an open hand and, like the others, they will pass. We are not what we feel. Dark emotions are merely indicators of our aliveness: we must know darkness to fully live in the light.
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, dating coach, and writer whose therapy practice is located in the Phinney - Greenwood area of Seattle, Washington. She has been providing counseling and dating consultation services since 2000.