Usually I only write one post per week, but because I wanted to give y’all a bullet journal update (which you can find here), I thought it would be nice to also have a more substantial and meaningful post for the week. I had the opportunity to be a lazy bum, but I ultimately decided not to take it even though an hour of watching Netflix definitely tempted me.
Anyway, this week I want to talk about something that I’ve honestly only recently encountered over the last couple of days. But while I’ve been thinking about it, I thought that it was an idea that I really wanted to put out there to start a discussion about (whether that’s with me, other people, or just yourself).
A day or two ago I was heading back from my morning workout at the gym (I’ve finally gotten back on a good schedule and have managed to wake myself up early enough to exercise before class) while listening to the TED Talk Daily podcast on iTunes. As you all know, I’m a big fan of podcasts, and I especially like to listen to them while working out or walking to and from all the many places I walk (I currently don’t own a car).
This specific TED talk was recorded live at the 2017 TED Women event and was given by South African psychologist Susan David. The topic that David decided to discuss was the idea of emotional health in the terms of denial, avoidance, and acceptance of all emotions, whether they are considered “good” or “bad”.
During her speech, she compared her experience with emotional suppression with her childhood growing up in the apartheid in South Africa. I know that this seems like a weird analogy, but I think that she explained what she meant well. David went on to say she saw similarities between these two concepts because in both, people were choosing to ignore something in favor of the way things were simply because they thought that was “better”. By ignoring and avoiding the bad parts of apartheid, or the negative emotions that we feel, in favor of what we think as best causes more negative consequences than if we just faced the issue head on.
David says that we live in a society where positivity has become a moral value that we hold people to. We expect everyone around us to be positive at all times no matter the circumstances, and if we ourselves are not positive, we strive to be. We bash other people and ourselves if we think that they are being too “negative”, and positivity has become an entrenched value within our society. This positivity value is detrimental to both our societal and mental health. David goes on to say that this positivity value is both “cruel and kind”; meaning that although this desire to constantly be happy doesn’t come from a bad place, the drive we feel and the push that society gives us to be constantly positive creates a form of cruelty for us to live under.
David believes that humans are meant to feel a wide range of emotions in our lifetimes, and that if we didn’t, than we would be “dead people”. What she means by this is that only the dead don’t have to worry about pain, rejection, or sadness, and that to feel all of these things is what makes us alive. Life doesn’t just come at one happiness setting, but people experience many emotions over the course of their lives that shape what living truly means.
David says that this issue began when we started to lump emotions into “good” and “bad” based on how we felt about it (I’m sure you get it, but this is like having happiness as a good emotion and having anger as a bad emotion). But because we started to make emotions strictly positive or negative, we began to try and control the emotions that we portrayed and felt on a daily basis. Because some emotions are considered better than others, we tend to suppress the “negative” ones in favor of the “positive” ones.
What this basically does is creates a kind of emotional constipation; the more that we suppress the “bad” emotions, the more they effect our lives. Rather than just feeling what needs to be felt and dealing with it in a constructive way, we mask it underneath false happiness to try to maintain the positivity value we have set for ourselves. And this destroys any kind of emotional health a person could have; both personally and on a social level.
Now I’m all about positivity and I definitely don’t think that being positive is necessarily a bad thing (and neither does David). What all of this means is that positivity can start to hurt people’s well-being when they begin to ignore their other emotions in order to hit that positivity value. The problem here is not that people want to be happy, but that people don’t realize that to be authentically happy, you also have to feel all the not-as-fun stuff. You can’t get one side without the other; you have to accept and appreciate both in order to experience life at its fullest. By not accepting their “negative” emotions, people are prohibiting themselves from being emotionally and mentally well-rounded and content. And we all know that if you continue to bottle things up for a long time, eventually it’s going to have to come out, and when it does it’s not going to be very pretty. But if we face all of our emotions constructively, then we can avoid the eventual explosion.
David also makes a good point (that surprisingly my step-dad also told my brother and I our entire childhood) which is that your emotions don’t control you. You can confront whatever it is you’re feeling and really feel it without having it control your reaction or your life. Just because you acknowledge that you’re angry or upset doesn’t mean that you have to act on that emotion and lash out. All you have to do is feel it and deal with it and eventually things will get better. It’s the emotional stifling that makes it even harder for us all to be happy.
I’ve always had an issue with suppressing my emotions my entire life. It’s not that I’m necessarily trying to be positive all the time; it’s more like I’m trying to be strong all the time. And while it’s not a bad thing to be a strong person, I think that the strongest people have the ability to face their emotions head on without fear of how people will perceive them. So I’m going to make an effort to start seeing my emotions for what they are, not for what I want them to be so that I can become a truly strong person and so that I can live my life to the fullest.
Let me know what you think about all of this and how you deal with all your emotions in the comments down below. And if you would like to check out Susan David’s TED Talk, you can find it here.
Over and Out,