When you think about uncomfortable emotions, do you usually liken them to negative emotions? It’s common to equate fear, anger, sadness, and disgust with something that we don’t want to feel, hence naming them uncomfortable. Because these feelings are negative in nature, they’re not something we would typically like or want to feel. That is why we spend a good chunk of our lives trying to steer away from their path and only chase positive emotions, such as happiness or love. Although it sounds like a sound idea at first, it’s a quick way to stunt your growth and damage your relationships along the way. It is counterintuitive to be open being uncomfortable but read along, and it will all make sense.
What Is Emotional Intelligence?
Before we dive right into the analysis of uncomfortable emotions, I want to discuss the concept of emotional intelligence, which is a critical piece of understanding and dealing with your feelings.
Although the term Emotional Intelligence dates back to the beginning of the sixties when Michael Beldoch and B. Leuner published articles using the term, it only became mainstream in 1995 when Daniel Goleman published the book Emotional Intelligence—Why It Can Matter More than IQ1.
For many years, Goleman wrote for the New York Times, targeting scientific research about the brain and behavioral sciences. His book was a bestseller in many countries and is still very popular today, possibly even more than ever.
In a nutshell, emotional intelligence refers to our ability to identify, understand, and manage our emotions and the emotions of others.
In 1997, authors Peter Salovey and John Mayer defined emotional intelligence2 as “the ability to perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions so as to assist thought, to understand emotions and emotional knowledge, and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual growth.”
Although this definition is straightforward, it’s a bit of a mouthful, so let’s look at how Goleman breaks emotional intelligence into five components, which will make things much cleared.
Emotional Intelligence Components
Here are the five components of emotional intelligence.
Being self-aware means that you can recognize and understand your moods and how they affect your behavior and the people around you. When you can monitor your emotional state and catch when it changes, you are self-aware.
Note that self-awareness is not just a mere realization that emotion is happening; instead, it implies understanding the emotion’s effects on your body and mind, which opens up the door for self-regulation.
To be able to self-regulate means that you can control or redirect impulses and think rationally before you take a specific action. That does not mean to shut down your emotions; instead, it means expressing your emotions at the right time and in the right way and being able to stave off the temptation of the moment.
To be able to self-regulate, you must first possess a high enough level of self-awareness.
3. Internal Motivation
Unlike external motivation, such as status, fame, or money, internal motivation implies your ability to work toward an inner vision with joy and curiosity. It means creating and pursuing goals with persistence and resilience regardless of failure; in other words, a strong drive to achieve something without an external reward.
The idea here is that if you are a person who is highly motivated by external factors, such as appreciation from others or public recognition, you are relying on things that are outside of your control.
That is a mindset problem. Self-driven and self-motivated people will have a much higher ability to manage their emotions than those who frequently rely on external gratification.
Empathy is the ability to perceive and understand other people’s emotions. Simply put, empathy means that you can “read” people and anticipate their reactions or behaviors in the face of certain emotions. Although empathy is understood mostly as a precursor to compassion, in this context, empathy doesn’t equate to compassion necessarily. You can be an empathetic person because you understand other’s emotions. Still, you could also be not compassionate because you don’t use that empathy to show sympathy and concern for other’s suffering.
That is the next level of emotional intelligence where you can not only understand and manage your emotions, but you can also understand the feelings of those around you and act accordingly.
5. Social Skills
This concept wraps the four before them in a practical way. In other words, it’s not enough to merely understand your emotions and the emotions of others; you must also be able to use that wisdom in your day-to-day interactions. That implies creating rapport, building relationships and networks, and fostering friendships through skills such as active listening, verbal communication, persuasiveness, and leadership.
How Uncomfortable Emotions Affect Us
Now that we understand what emotional intelligence is, let’s dive into what uncomfortable emotions are and how they affect us.
Many situations in life can lead to uncomfortable emotions. Here are just a few.
- A difficult conversation
- Approaching something unfamiliar
- Being forced to do an unethical act
When you are in those situations, several negative emotions might arise, such as fear, anger, anxiety, or frustration. These emotions have an instant effect on your body and mind.
- Your overall behavior changes
- You talk and move differently
- Your judgment is impaired (not thinking clearly)
- You go on the attack, or you cower and run away
In other words, negative emotions put stress on your mind and your body and make you feel like something or someone else is controlling you at that moment. It’s as though you no longer recognize yourself. The uncomfortable emotion manifests in your body by altering your demeanor and thinking.
However, you must accept that no matter how much practice you have, those uncomfortable emotions will always elicit those feelings in your body and mind. Your goal is to allow them to be but look for the valuable information that they provide you.
What are those emotions trying to communicate? Does something need to change? Do you need to make adjustments or learn something? What is it that generates the feeling in the first place?
When you can have those answers with unbiased clarity, at the moment when the emotion hits you, it means that you’ve discovered the Holy Grail of managing your emotions. Or, at least, the beginning of it.
I say that because it takes time and lots and lots of uncomfortable emotions before any one of us can get to that place of “nirvana.” Most people traverse through a series of ways of dealing with emotions before approaching that place of high emotional intelligence.
How We Deal with Uncomfortable Emotions
Next, let us look at several ways in which we deal with uncomfortable emotions. I will list them below in their health order, from the least healthy to the healthiest. Note that you may be using some of these “levels” for certain uncomfortable emotions and others for different ones.
Usually, the more uncomfortable the emotion, the more you tend to use the less healthy approach. That, of course, until you begin to understand that behavior and start practicing yourself into the healthier alternatives.
So, if you see yourself in one of these, don’t judge or even become defensive about it. Recognize it and reflect on what it means for you. Over time, you will slowly learn how to move up the ladder and apply the healthier methods of dealing with these uncomfortable emotions.
Numbing Yourself Out
The first way we deal with our uncomfortable emotions is by numbing ourselves to them. When you have a specific type of pain, you take a medication to numb that affected area, so the pain goes away; emotions work similarly.
Everybody has a particular way of numbing their emotional pain and, most of the time, it’s not healthy. Some eat comfort food. Others drink alcohol or take drugs. These methods will deflect your attention from the uncomfortable emotion and will redirect your focus to something else.
Binge-watching TV or spending hours on end on the internet or social media also act as numbing agents.
The problem with numbing emotions that way is twofold.
First, you never learn how to deal with that emotion. Instead, you keep running away from it, and you’ll never develop the strength to face it.
Second, you start to associate the bad habit with the feeling. Soon enough, you won’t be able to control yourself even when merely anticipating that the emotion is about to come, which technically is addiction. You become so afraid of facing that emotion that you keep yourself in a permanent numbed state.
Numbing out emotions that way stems from a lack of self-regulation. It will continue to destroy your self-awareness, empathy, and, ultimately, your social skills and ability to function in social settings.
Suppressing the Emotion
The next level of dealing with emotions is by suppressing them. There’s a difference between numbing emotions and suppressing them because in the latter case, you don’t use any “numbing agent.” Instead, you use your mind to push those emotions away consciously.
It is, in some way, a more advanced way of dealing with emotions because it doesn’t involve using any external “medicine;” instead, you apply your will to make them go away or pretend like they don’t exist.
We do this because we are scared of what the emotion might do to us. We are afraid of what we might do or what others might think about us if we let that emotion manifest.
The problem, once again, is that by doing so, we never learn how that emotion truly manifests. We never understand what it does to us or how to deal with it. Instead, we bottle it up and push it down to the bottom. Over time, that pressure cooker of emotions will keep building and building.
Eventually, it will explode, and when it does, we are neither ready nor prepared to deal with what is happening. Usually, those moments are disastrous, and they destroy relationships, break trust, and take years to fix.
Expressing the Emotion
On the third level of dealing with uncomfortable emotions sits the expression of emotions. That is already a lot better than numbing or suppressing emotions, but, unfortunately, most people often misunderstand what it means.
The skill to master is that of expressing emotions in a healthy way. Most people will express their feelings in an unhealthy manner that leads to discord and divisiveness. Here are some examples:
- Anger—scream, shout, hurt people verbally and physically, break or destroy stuff
- Sadness—self-harming, shutting people out
- Fear—bullying, lashing out
The distinction you need to make is that healthy expression of emotion is not merely venting or dumping your emotional load on somebody else. Many times this kind of mental dump is accompanied by shaming, criticism, and judgment. In other words, to paraphrase Brene Brown, you, the person who dumps, vomit their feelings onto somebody else.
That is not helpful to you or the person you are using as a garbage can for your feelings. It certainly doesn’t create a bond; it’s disruptive.
To go beyond this kind of expression of emotion, you must learn how to identify the feelings, name them, and then talk about them in an unarguable way. You are not trying to project that emotion onto someone else so that you feel lighter. Instead, you simply recognize how you feel and talk about it.
Embrace Your Emotions
Once you practice and become better at healthily expressing your feelings, you can then ascend to the next level-to embrace your uncomfortable emotions. Once you realize how expressing those emotions healthily creates connection and helps you deal with the feelings and move on, embracing the emotion becomes a tool.
Now you are no longer mentally splitting the emotions into comfortable and uncomfortable. Instead, they are emotions, and you love all of them. You are no longer afraid of the feeling’s effect on you; you recognize it, embrace it, and immediately seek ways to express it with no delay.
When you become capable of identifying the emotion quickly, labeling it, and accepting it as a part of your life, you are one step closer to superior emotional intelligence.
Only when you get to that level will you improve your empathy and give in to your internal motivation. Without embracing your emotions-negative or not-you cannot be a support system for other people, and you cannot be a support system for yourself.
Transcending the Emotion
Transcendence means to surpass or go beyond a certain level or concept. With emotions, transcendence doesn’t mean rising above feelings and burying them underneath you.
Instead, transcending the emotion means that you can understand the root cause of the uncomfortable emotion and, as you practice feeling the emotion, you surpass its effects. Therefore, you are stronger than the feeling and can control your actions rather than fall prey to instincts.
Most emotions sprout from a gap between expectation and reality, desire and actuality, who we want to be and who we are, or how we want others to be and how they turn out to be. In the end, the reality is whatever is happening.
Your expectation creates the gap. The gap creates emotion.
When you feel overwhelmed by an emotion, it’s because the weight of that gap is too heavy for you to carry. You simply cannot accept it. That is different than merely feeling the feeling. Understanding the gap between your expectation and reality means that you can begin to control what that gap does to you.
In 1977, Jiddu Krishnamurti, famed thinker, speaker, and writer, gave a lecture in California. At some point, he paused and said to the audience, “Do you want to know what my secret is?” Then he added, “You see, I don’t mind what happens.”
That is the best definition of transcending an emotion I can think of. Emotions are to be felt, understood, and discussed. Only when you don’t mind the reality that generated those emotions can you safely transcend them and move forward.
In some ways, transcending your emotions means becoming stoic. As Marcus Aurelius wrote, “You have power over your mind-not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
Learning to Accept Uncomfortable Emotions
I want to make one thing clear. There’s a difference between accepting, embracing, or transcending emotions and resignation in the face of emotions.
Resignation implies a loss of control, wallowing in pain, or a continuous expectation of suffering.
Acceptance is different; it implies being okay with the emotion and allowing it to manifest, but the resulting behavior is vastly different from the one spawning from resignation.
When you learn to accept uncomfortable emotions and figure out how they affect you, you create a platform for developing your emotional intelligence.
Accepting uncomfortable emotions implies expecting them for the sole purpose of learning something that will then help you shape up your behavior.
On the other hand, merely expecting pain will result in you behaving resigned in the face of life. You may stop seeking support and shut down.
That is why I want to emphasize that your goal here is to learn how to accept uncomfortable emotions and use them as learning experiences; your goal is not to suffer indefinitely just for the sake of suffering.
The more you practice and deal with uncomfortable emotions, the less they will be painful. Soon, there will be enough space to create positive feelings and lead a happy and fulfilling life.
However, if you keep avoiding uncomfortable emotions, when they inevitably stumble in your life, they’ll derail you and chip away at your happiness and tranquility with no mercy.
Positive and Negative Emotions Create Growth
It’s an instinct for all of us to protect ourselves from uncomfortable emotions. Our bodies are designed to run from pain, and our minds do just the same.
The secret to growth doesn’t lie in our ability to avoid places of discomfort but in our capacity to confront them. The more we become immune to the fear that prevents us from stepping outside of the comfort zone, the more we open the door to growth.
The opposite is a road to complacency and obliviousness.
Therefore, the quicker you accept that uncomfortable emotions are a pathway to growth, the sooner you will begin looking for them. Soon enough, you might even crave the high they give you. You’ll never fully accept them instinctively because that goes against our nature as humans.
But you can train yourself to control your mind and not give in to your instincts.
It’s a challenging road, but it’s filled with a bounty of rewards waiting to be collected. Sow the way early by embracing those uncomfortable emotions, and you’ll soon reap the benefits tenfold.
Good luck on your path. I know it’s a tough one, but I have faith in you! Go for it!
Other Resources About Embracing Uncomfortable Emotions
- Sit with Negative Emotions, Don’t Push Them Away
- 3 Reasons You Should Lean into Uncomfortable Emotions – Instead of Running from Them
- How to Deal with Uncomfortable Feelings & Create Positive Ones
- 5 Ways to Be with Uncomfortable Feelings
Now, before you go, I have…
3 Questions For You
- Do you consider yourself a highly emotionally intelligent person? Why?
- Which part of emotional intelligence do you struggle with the most?
- What is the one emotion that you constantly find yourself running away from?
Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!
- Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. 10th Anniversary edition. Bantam, 2005.←
- Mayer, J. D., & Salovey, P. (1997). What is emotional intelligence? In P. Salovey & D. J. Sluyter (Eds.), Emotional development and emotional intelligence: Educational implications (p. 3–34).←
Hi there! I’m Iulian, and I want to thank you for reading my article. There’s a lot more if you stick around. I write about personal development, productivity, fiction writing, and more. Also, I’ve created Self-Growth Journey, a free program that helps you get unstuck and create the beautiful life you deserve. Enjoy!