(feel anxious, sad or frustrated, and still)
Are you bothered by negative intrusive thoughts and feelings?
Does fear, anxiety, sadness or some other unwanted emotion get in the way of your life?
Does it sometimes feel like you're in a battle with negative thoughts and feelings, and that if you could get rid of them, you'd be happy?
The good news is that there's a radically simple way to end the struggle and make peace with unpleasant emotions, just as they are, without having to avoid them. There is a way to feel emotions that you don't like to feel - and still be happy.
WHAT IF TRYING TO BE HAPPY IS MAKING US UNHAPPY?
Somewhere along the way, we learned that being happy meant getting rid of unhappy emotions like sadness, fear, frustration or anxiety. This desire to avoid pain makes sense: our culture doesn't like pain, and the human mind doesn't either. Wanting to avoid unpleasant, uncomfortable or scary emotions is totally normal. We often get the message from social media, advertisers, friends, family and even from ourselves that we should feel good and be happy.
However, life is difficult and if you're a human being, you will experience some kind of pain. For example, building relationships, a career and a fulfilling life can bring satisfaction and happiness, but can also involve frustration, disappointment and anxiety. The challenge is, what will we do when these kinds of uninvited, unwanted painful emotions show up?
When emotions are distressing and uncomfortable, our usual response is to try and get rid of them. Here are some common ways we try to avoid painful emotions:
food, drugs or alcohol
keeping busy with distractions
staying away from uncomfortable situations
THE PROBLEM WITH AVOIDING EMOTIONS
Getting away from negative emotions sometimes helps us feel better, at least for a little while.
But what if our uncomfortable thoughts and feelings keep coming back? And what happens if our efforts to avoid our thoughts and feelings create new problems that make us more unhappy?
You may be avoiding difficult emotions if you:
Worry about the future, browse the web, eat, drink much more than you'd like to.
Avoid conflicts or interactions with people that might feel uncomfortable.
Find it hard to slow down, relax and be still.
Stay away from potentially pleasurable situations because of fear or anxiety.
Find yourself replaying over and over things you've said or done.
Have difficulty sleeping of an agitated mind or restless body.
Feel you should be happy, but can't shake anxious, frustrated or sad feelings.
Are held back in your life by negative thoughts and feelings.
Believe you'd be happier if you could get rid of your negative thoughts and feelings.
Do some of these signs look familiar to you? Maybe there are some emotions you don't want, and you keep trying to avoid them. Maybe your experience with avoiding pain looks something like this....
A BIT OF MY STORY
The avoidance cycle pretty much sums up my experience with unwanted emotions for most of my adult life. For many years I struggled to get rid of feelings of guilt and inadequacy, believing I wasn't good enough, or that if something was wrong it was my fault. In order to avoid these feelings, I stayed away from situations where those feelings might show up or I sought others' approval. However, no matter how hard I tried to avoid them, I kept feeling that there was something wrong with me. As the years passed, my inability to get rid of these feelings made me feel even worse about myself, which led to bouts with depression and anxiety, self-destructive behavior and the loss of meaningful relationships. My efforts to deal with my pain wasn't working.
I see this same pattern in the lives of nearly all of my counselling clients, where unwanted thoughts and feelings show up and efforts to avoid them ends up making things worse. In fact, in recent years, researchers have become more interested in looking at 'experiential avoidance' as the root cause of many health and relationship issues.
A growing body of research suggests that many psychological problems and relationship challenges are the result of trying to avoid difficult thoughts and feelings.
THERE IS ANOTHER WAY
The reality is that life brings to us a mix of emotions: joy, surprise and peace but also sadness, frustration and fear. Pleasure and pain is a normal part of the human experience. Our efforts to create fulfilling relationships, satisfying careers and a meaningful life will bring joy and pleasure, but also fear, disappointment, grief and anxiety. The challenge is, what will we do when these kinds of uninvited, unwanted painful emotions show up? Will we embrace them, work with them and learn from them or will we try to fight them, ignore them or judge them?
Perhaps our emotions aren't the problem. Maybe our efforts to get rid of our unwanted emotions is the cause of so much of our pain and suffering. Maybe what's getting in the way of happiness is not our unpleasant emotions, but our failed efforts to avoid them.
What if, instead of trying to avoid them, you could end the battle with your emotions and make peace with them, just as they are?
Instead of struggling with difficult emotions - fighting, ignoring, numbing or trying to change them - imagine being able to take them with you and focusing your time and energy on what truly matters to you: living, growing and thriving even in the presence of difficult thoughts and feelings.
When you end your struggle with unwanted emotions, life looks more like this....
THE GOOD NEWS
Instead of suffering caused by failed efforts to avoid difficult emotions, you can flourish by accepting that life brings a whole mixture of normal human emotions that come and go (in fact, it's our efforts to get rid of them that intensifies emotions and keep them hanging around). And then, when you're no longer burdened by your struggle to get rid of negative thoughts and feelings, you are free to focus our time and energy on making choices that align with the kind of person God made you to be, and to do those things - even in the presence of difficult emotions - that help create a meaningful, satisfying and purpose-filled life.
The truth is that difficult emotions like inadequacy, sadness or fear aren't a sign that there is something wrong with you, a problem to be solved or something broken that needs fixing. Even though they can be uncomfortable, all emotions, even the very difficult ones, indicate what you care about. God gave you the ability to have emotions. Avoiding them would be like ignoring the gauges on your car's dashboard or not paying attention to the weather before leaving home in the morning. And avoiding them will create long term problems.
The good news is that there's a radically simple way to make peace with your emotions, just as they are, without having to avoid them. At the heart of this radical idea is this: when you allow yourself to feel emotions you don't like - like sadness, anxiety, frustration, or guilt, inadequacy or fear - you learn how to work with them rather than work against them. You learn to see them as your allies, not as a threat to your happiness. And then you don't have to avoid them anymore.
ABOUT THE "MAKING PEACE WITH EMOTIONS" COURSE
This course will not get rid of painful thoughts and feelings. As we've explored already, life brings both pleasant and unpleasant emotions. And to be honest with you, guilt and inadequacy continues to show up in my life; however, it no longer has the grip on me it had for so many years. When those emotions show up, I use the same skills that I teach in this course to get me back on track - all without having to get rid of the pain I'm feeling.
The MAKING PEACE WITH EMOTIONS course will help you stop trying to get rid of difficult emotions. When you stop struggling, you can focus on doing the things create a meaningful, satisfying life. You'll learn how to navigate through the range of emotions that life brings, so that you don't have to struggle with them. This experience will bring you happiness.
The course is especially helpful if:
you find yourself engaging in behaviors that you later regret, but can't seem to change.
you experience anxiety, depression, chronic stress and stress-related health issues.
you would like to be more effective in your career, studies, health or relationships.
guilt, doubt, anxiety, sadness or anger hold you back from doing the things you want to do and keep you from being the kind of person you want to be.
The MAKING PEACE WITH EMOTIONS course is grounded in biblical wisdom and also draws on the latest psychological research which shows that our response to our emotions - and not the emotions themselves - is a major factor in determining our psychological, physical and spiritual health.
Over the course of 10+ years of private practice, I've witnessed how the skills in this course have helped clients break free from the suffering caused by their efforts to avoid emotions. They have learned that thoughts and feelings are just thoughts and feelings, and have focused their attention on creating full, rich and meaningful lives. And personally, using the skills in this course has helped me overcome crippling anxiety and depression. Now, when painful emotions show up, I regularly use these skills to quickly put me back on track and help me to be the person God made me to be, rather than use ineffective coping strategies to escape my pain.
HOW THIS COURSE CAN HELP YOU
Rather than getting into a no-win battle with uncomfortable emotions - such as sadness, fear, inadequacy, guilt, doubt or shame - you'll learn how to make peace with them just as they are so you can focus your energy on being the kind of person you want to be and doing the things you want to do.
To help you do this, you'll learn and practice five practical and powerful skills:
1. ACCEPTING YOUR EMOTIONS: Give yourself permission to have emotions you don't like.
2. NAME YOUR EMOTIONS: Reduce your fear of your emotions by getting to know them.
3. GET SOME DISTANCE: Have thoughts and feelings without getting entangled by them.
4. MAKE ROOM: Give difficult emotions space so they’re not in the way.
5. CONNECT WITH YOUR VALUES: Make choices that reflect the best version of you.
Practicing these five skills will help you navigate stressful situations and respond more effectively to difficult emotions like anger, fear and sadness, so you can:
√ Take control of your actions, rather than be controlled by your emotions.
√ Make conscious choices that align with your values and goals.
√ Be your best self, even when uncomfortable emotions are present.
√ Be more effective in your relationships, career and life.
√ Reduce your worry, stress and anxiety.
You'll discover that you don't have get rid of unwanted emotions in order to do those things that really matter to you: becoming the person you were created to be and living a meaningful, purpose-driven life that God designed for you.
Join this 8-week intensive course designed to help you navigate difficult emotions and become the person God created you to be.
Beginning Monday September 30th, 7:00pm - 8:00pm
Central Community Church, 240 Scott St. in St. Catharines
Led By Steve Abma, Registered Psychotherapist
God grant me the serenity to accept
the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.
— Reinhold Niebuhr
GET IN TOUCH
We'd love to hear from you. Contact us to learn more about the HOW TO BE HAPPY course.
Steve Abma, MA, RP
4056 Dorchester Rd, Niagara Falls, Ontario, CANADA L2E 6M9