Saturday Series: Using Adversity to Your Advantage 
Part 6 – Cultivate Comfort with Dark Emotions

You have to feel it to heal it. – Miriam Greenspan, author of “Healing Through the Dark Emotions”.

(This is the sixth in an 8-part guest series by Sarah Novak titled “Why Catastrophe ROCKS!  An 8-part Series on How to Use Adversity to Your Advantage.” Pic credit: Discovery.com).

In the first 5 posts of this Saturday series, we looked at why catastrophe happens, what responses are available to us, what the potential upsides may be, boundary-setting, and how to open up and accept help by asking for what you needWe’ve explored 3 of the benefits of adversity thus far and still have 2 more to go. Today’s unexpected benefit- Cultivating Comfort with Dark Emotions – is my hands down favorite because of the radical transformation it had on my life. Let’s not waste any time getting into it, shall we? – Sarah.

What the Heck are Dark Emotions?

Let’s start by identifying what dark emotions are. 

Miriam Greenspan, author of Healing through the Dark Emotions, classifies the dark emotions as those that cause us great pain to experience.  

The 3 most common dark emotions are FEAR, GRIEF and DESPAIR. 

Why, you might ask, should we bother feeling them at all if they cause us such incredible suffering? 

The answer is, quite simply, because dark emotions are a powerful vehicle for transformation

Amidst the pain, they also carry profound information for us. By taking time to acknowledge and feel them, we are able to process the lessons they have for us and emerge to a place of unimagined joy and aliveness, liberated from our suffering.

Do you want some of that unimagined joy and aliveness? 

Yeah, me too!

Actually, I received it in spades back in 2007 after my depression. 

I had spent years “stuffing” my emotions rather than feeling them. I was sure that if I felt them, they’d swallow me whole, so I just kept them locked in my emotional closet. This destructive behavior eventually caught up with me and resulted in 2 years of depression, anxiety and debilitating panic attacks.

While I fought for my life, I was forced to come face to face with the dark emotions of fear, grief and despair. 

These feelings I had avoided for DECADES were now threating to overtake me. At some point, I realized that THE ONLY WAY OUT WAS THROUGH. 

As I focused on living one day at a time, I began to realize that they weren’t in fact killing me, but instead teaching me useful things about my resilience and resourcefulness. 

I’m not going to lie and tell you it was easy, because it’s wasn’t. 

What it was, however, was immensely rewarding.

When I emerged on the other side of the depression, I was greeted by complete and unadulterated aliveness. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced before, made possible ONLY because I had expanded my lower range by feeling the dark emotions which in turn opened me up to access high-frequency, expansive emotions like love, passion and hope. 

Yes, it was painful, but I’d do it all over again knowing where I ended up!

What We Commonly Do with Our Emotions.

It is NOT the societal norm to feel our emotions. 

In fact, we are socialized from early on (by our families, no less!) to distrust our feelings and feel ashamed of them. Men are conditioned to deny their emotions, while women are encouraged to tune into others’ emotion while selflessly ignoring their own. 

Is it any wonder that our relationships struggle when we have such backward behavior modeled for us?

In lieu of feeling our emotions, we tend to: 

  1. Bottle up or suppress them.
  2. Numb our pain with drugs, food, alcohol or shopping instead.
  3. Revert to a better-feeling emotion (like self-pity, shame or guilt) instead of the emotion that we really need to release.
  4. Think about them and commonly label them as good or bad (which once again results in us experiencing shame or guilt instead of the emotion we need to release).

These behaviors are dangerous for many reasons, especially because they lead to addiction, unnecessary suffering and health issues that will show up as a result of the suppressed emotions (see post 1 for more info on this).

An Alternative Response.

Instead of bottling, numbing or fighting your dark emotions, welcome them instead. Yes, welcome them. And at the least, accept they exist!

This can be done most easily by:

  • Noticing when they are present, 
  • Looking for the lessons they have to teach you and 
  • Trusting in your innate resilience.  

One way or another, dark emotions ARE going to seek release. 

Our level of resistance is what determines the amount of suffering we will endure. Ultimately, this does mean opening yourself up to pain and vulnerability. No easy task, that’s for sure. But much like birthing a child, keeping your eye on the prize that awaits you helps to dull (but not eliminate) the pain.

Remember, like childbirth, feeling dark emotion is a process that our bodies were designed to do.  

It is part of our human experience for a reason, largely because it has the capacity to deeply enrich our lives. Won’t you please have the courage to invite them in when the dark emotions are knocking on your door?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below! What’s your most common avoidance technique for avoiding dark emotions? What have you learned from your dark emotions when you’ve let them in? Please share this post with someone who needs inspiration & hope, thanks!

As a Cancer Coach, Sarah Novak is committed to helping female cancer survivors use their experience as a catalyst for transformation in their lives. Although we cannot control our circumstances, we CAN always decide how we choose to be with our reality. Check out www.coachsarahnovak.com to learn about her private and group coaching programs + receive her free guide: “Coping with the Everyday Fears of Cancer: How to Minimize Fear and Anxiety by Transforming Your Thoughts.”

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  1. says

    Hi Sarah :).

    This is a fantastic post! It’s interesting because I still recall moving away to college (a little over 10 years ago) and getting very depressed and getting homesick. At the time I had no idea that it would be incredibly powerful and life changing for me.

    I have been blessed with wonderful parents – they encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and create a new life in college. Though, it took aobut a year and a half – I was able to join new clubs, make new friends, and eventually really enjoy it.

    That ability to move and adjust to a new city area has transferred with me to my present day. I used to live in America but I now live in Japan. I felt very confident that I would be able to meet people and make new friends (which I have). The base for this started back in my early college days in that deep depression.

    I like reading posts like this because they are so open and honest.

  2. says

    Oh this is perfect! I love the line “Remember, like childbirth, feeling dark emotion is a process that our bodies were designed to do.” Because it’s true – the pain only stop when the baby is out! And you can’t avoid it, it’s got to come out one way or another.

    Great post.

  3. says

    Thank you for this brilliant post! It’s true that we naturally do our best to avoid dark emotions, but what adventures are we missing out on… I progressively understood that emotions are a blessing, the dark ones as much as the bright ones. And in the end, we have to be thankful for being given the opportunity to live all life’s experiences and learning from them!

  4. says

    LOVE this. Without exception, the most challenging times in my life have also brought me the greatest blessings. I can honestly say that most of the situations themselves built up over time until they were giant ‘I SAID!’ messages from the Universe.

    I’m now making it a daily practice to examine and go through the things that make me uncomfortable instead of finding somewhere to stow them like some cosmic hoarder. The process is far from perfect, but I’m seeing so many blessings that it’s worth it.

  5. says

    Wow, I’m loving these awesome comments! Yes, Izzy, it can be very hard to notice the change when you’re in the thick of it, but looking back one has to marvel at all the transformation. Honestly, nearly every good thing in my life today came out of the depression! Kudos to you for staying with it.

    Thank you Ms. Zivana (cool name, btw). Having had a baby 1 year ago, those memories are still quite fresh! Also not an easy experience by any means, but so worth the outcome! I just made the connection between the two recently and think it’s a great metaphor because it emphasizes how inevitable the expression of emotions are (so why spend all that time trying to suppress them).

    Cool Clay- So glad to hear that you’ve learned that lesson “in your bones” as I like to say. We can understand it conceptually, but it’s only when we live it that the learning truly gets locked in.

    Ellen- Loved your term ‘cosmic hoarder’. I’m stealing that! Yes, it’s true. We’re quite stubborn at times but we get FORCED to deal with our s*#t. Good on you for trying to nip it in the bud early with a structure/practice!

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