Recently, I was taking a walk and listening to my favorite life coach, Brooke Castillo, discuss the necessity of feeling negative emotion (more about her in Friday Favorites).
It’s a gem of a listen, but here is the thought that inspired this post.
“The more alive we’re willing to be, the more negative emotion we’re going to experience. […] By really opening ourselves up to diving into the negative emotion, it gives us the full experience of what it means to be alive.”
As I listened to her words, I thought of negative emotions in my own life.
When I thought back to some of my most difficult moments, I realized they were actually the birthplace of so much positivity I now enjoy.
Specifically, I thought back to my two most recent break ups.
No one loves a stay at the Heartbreak Hotel, am I right?
That pinch at the heart when you miss a hand to hold. The wince of seeing another couple in love. The hollow space where you know your stomach should be, but no amount of ice cream can fill up.
If there ever were a negative emotion, I’d say heartbreak is one of the biggies.
However, now that I look back on it, the sadness and loneliness of those two breakups were drivers to a better place.
After Breakup #1, I set 100 goals (literally).
I trained for a triathlon. I went to Australia. I learned to ride a motorcycle. I read my height in books. The learning, adventure and physical growth attained during that period still sustain me.
After Breakup #2, I sought out a mentor and found a remarkable movement therapist who helped me unlock my creativity and ultimately write my first novel. Finding my voice through writing was a momentous gift that still nourishes me today.
That’s all the detail I think my story needs, because I’m hoping it will simply help you think about your own experiences with negative emotion.
When you look back on difficult moments, can you see how negative emotions have fueled growth and movement forward?
Consider a period when a negative emotion seemed to color everything.
Perhaps it was the loneliness of a breakup or grieving the death of a loved one. Perhaps it was insecurity when you lost a job or frustration when recovering from an accident.
Remember for a moment the fall, and the subsequent pain and bruising.
Then, think about how you got up. Did you stand up stronger, braver, kinder, more motivated, more enlightened? My guess is that your answer is likely yes.
It seems that one of life's greatest kindnesses is that we receive the gift of growth as a conciliatory prize for having taken a fall.
Though it is hard to imagine—especially when we're still down on the ground—that our next steps can be bolder and stronger, there is always chance to stand with more balance after each stumble.
Why, then, are we so afraid of falling down? Why are we so afraid of taking risk and putting our hearts on the line? Why are we afraid to feel the negative emotions life will inevitably deliver?
What if, instead, we welcomed the trip ups and slip ups?
What if we reminded ourselves—in the midst of the pain—that on the other side of the fall is the chance to meet a better version of ourselves?
“Feeling your feelings is the most courageous thing anyone can do,” says Brooke. “When you’re willing to feel any emotion, that’s when you’re going to be willing to take any action because you won’t be afraid of the emotion that might accompany it.”
If you’re heart is in the middle of a rough patch right now, think back to another time when the road was rocky. What did that experience teach you? How did you ultimately change for the better?
Doesn’t it stand to reason that life will be generous once again and turn your current pain into more strength and tenderness down the road?
For me, falling in love with falling means recognizing that negative emotions truly can enrich our lives. They can be amazing teachers that introduce us to ever-better versions of ourselves, if we only allow them to do so.