In the animated film Inside Out, the character named Sadness saves the day. This may be a story designed to teach children the importance of listening to their feelings, but there are many grown-ups who stand to benefit too – this writer included.
I’ve always prided myself on being an optimist, perhaps exacerbated by my husband’s propensity for what I like to call “dark-cloud thinking” (to be clear, I say this as a veiled insult at dinner parties and family gatherings). But it’s recently dawned on me that he’s got the right idea, and my insistence on blue-sky thinking at all times could actually be a kind of self-harm.
“The point isn’t that we should question the value of feeling good,” says research psychologist and trauma expert Dr Sarah Woodhouse, author of You’re Not Broken. “But rather, acknowledge that there is so much to be gained from the emotions that we tend to shut down, like anger, envy or shame.”
It may come as no surprise that women, especially, are conditioned to minimise feelings that have a negative connotation. Turns out, even doctors who specialise in processing them get caught up. “I have a group of friends who could be described as emotionally literate, and yet we’ll all regularly say to one another, ‘I feel so angry/sad/flat today … but I’m okay.’ It’s as if wrapped up in these emotions is the idea that if you feel them, you’re not okay,” Dr Woodhouse says.
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