Difference between feeling emotions and wallowing in them

What’s the difference between feeling your emotions and wallowing in them?

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Difference between feeling emotions and wallowing in themWe all have times when we experience ‘negative’ emotions.

The thing with emotions is that they all serve a purpose…they are there for a reason. All emotions…the good, the bad and the sometimes very ugly.

That’s the reason I put the word ‘negative’ in inverted commas…because we only perceive them as negative…they actually serve a positive purpose when we allow them to.

In our culture these days, when we experience ‘negative’ emotions we have a tendency to want to distract ourselves from experiencing them. We want to avoid, ignore or bury them…or simply pretend that they don’t exist.

We’ve a plethora of ways to distract ourselves from our emotions…eating, shopping, drinking, drugs, losing ourselves in TV or movies, or burying ourselves in work.

But as I’ve talked about in several articles, these emotions exist for a reason…in order for them to serve their purpose we need to experience them.

They are there to help us to process our experiences, to move through them, learn from them, grow from them…and if we don’t acknowledge and experience these emotions they tend to hang around.

They bubble under the surface and when we least expect it (and often when it is least convenient) they pop up and bite us in the butt.

So in order to release these emotions, we need to first experience them, we need to feel the emotions fully in order to let them go.

But a question I’ve heard many times when this subject comes up is “How do I tell the difference between feeling the emotions to process them and let them go, and wallowing in them?”

This is such a fantastic question…and one that is so valuable to know the answer to that I wanted to write today’s article to share this vital insight with you.

We’ve all wallowed at times.

Those times when we’ve experienced something that has brought up a ‘negative’ emotion…it could be sadness, pain, hurt, anger, shame, grief, rejection – any ‘negative’ emotion.

BUT we don’t want to move through it, we don’t want to release it we WANT to be in it.

We want to just be in the negative emotion, we don’t want to move, we just want to sit there.

Doing nothing, changing nothing, just being in it.

But why?

Why would we want to voluntarily stay in an emotion that doesn’t feel good?

The reason is that in the short term, we can actually seem to gain a lot by being in it….though we may not be consciously aware of it.

When we’re in a ‘bad’ space, there can be ‘benefits’ to it.

In an increasingly numb culture, this is a moment where we’re really feeling something, we feel connected to ourselves and to our emotions in a way that most of us don’t in our day-to-day lives.

We get sympathy from and connection to other people…when we’re not feeling great we often get friends, family or colleagues reaching out to us to give us support. They want to be there for you, comfort you, help you to feel better – often in a way that we don’t experience when we’re not in this kind of space.

This kind of attention makes us feel important, makes us feel special, makes us feel significant…in a way that we might not be used to feeling the rest of the time.

We might use feeling this way as an excuse for not doing things that we’d prefer to avoid…for having some downtime, taking a break, and allowing yourself to breathe a bit and have some time for you. In our hamster-wheel-like lives, we don’t allow ourselves to do this often enough…and so having a reason to do it can feel quite good.

…or we can use it as an excuse for doing the things that we don’t believe we ‘should’ do, but a part of us would really like to. We use feeling bad as a reason for maxing out our credit cards, finishing off an entire chocolate cake, or downing a bottle of wine.

So while we might not be consciously aware of the benefits of being in our ‘negative’ emotions…subconsciously we can bet getting a lot out of it, so we can begin to indulge in it, to subconsciously choose to stay in it, to wallow.

So what’s the problem with wallowing in our ‘negative’ emotions?

If we’re getting so many benefits from being in our ‘negative’ emotions, then what’s the problem?

Well the simple answer is that it’s a short-term gain, which costs us in the long term.

You see processing the emotions, feeling them fully in order to release them gives a short term pain (of feeling fully the emotions that are there) …but which enables us to get a huge long-term benefit…i.e. that we get to completely release these emotions, learn from them, grow from them and move on without taking the baggage of the past with us.

On the other hand, wallowing gives us a short-term gain (the benefits of us being in our negative emotion), but because we’re not feeling the emotions to release them, we’re indulging in them to get these benefits, we never actually get the REAL benefit of being able to let them go and move on to create a life free of this baggage. Instead we end up carrying it all with us all the time, which in the long-term is draining and very unfulfilling.

So how can you tell the difference between processing emotions and wallowing? The point at which you feel that you’re getting more from being in your ‘negative’ emotion than from processing and releasing it is the point at which you’re wallowing. When being in pain is subconsciously ‘worth it’ because of the benefits we get from being there.

The danger with wallowing is that so often that we’re unaware of the fact that we’re doing it. The choice is happening at a subconscious level…not a conscious one.

So how can we avoid the pitfall of wallowing in emotions?

The only way to avoid the pitfall of wallowing is to use awareness and choice.

Becoming aware of whether you are processing or indulging in your ‘negative’ emotions is the first step towards shifting it.

So simply asking yourself the question “Am I feeling this emotion to process and release it, or to indulge in it?” and answering it honestly puts you in a position of choice.

When you’re aware of where you’re at, you can then choose whether or not to stay there…asking yourself “Do I want the short term benefit, or the long term gain?” can be an important question when you want to make a powerful choice of what you want for yourself.

And do you want to know what’s really great about choosing to process your emotions and release them rather than wallow in them?

You actually still get the short-term benefits when you’re in it, feeling the emotions in order to then release them…but they’re not enough to keep you there, you know you want more for yourself…

…SO you also get the long-term benefit of being able to put down the baggage you’ve been carrying with you and move on to create a lighter and more fulfilling life as well!

So it’s win-win!

So the next time you find yourself feeling something you’d rather not be feeling, ask yourself the question, “Am I processing this, or am I wallowing in it?” and see which choice you’d really like to make.

Stay Fabulous,

Claire x

2 replies
  1. mark jones
    mark jones says:

    When dealing with the death of a long term marriage (15 years) there seems to be an immense amount of grief. How do you know the difference between wallowing in it and feeling a huge amount of emotion, when the length of time you feel it, is not necessarily an indicator? Is it normal to feel so much emotion for so long, at the end of a marriage? Sometimes crying for 30 minutes or more at a time and continually feeling immense sadness, anger, bitterness, regret and longing.

    Reply
    • Claire
      Claire says:

      Hi Mark,

      Thanks so much for your comment and question. A few things come to mind when I read your post. The first thing is that there is no such thing as ‘normal’ when it comes to emotion. We all deal with it in slightly different ways, and it can be a quicker process for some than others. That said, the fact that you’re asking the question might indicate that something doesn’t feel quite right to you in what your witnessing or experiencing (I’m not sure if the question is on your own behalf or regarding someone else). When dealing with a loss of something so significant, it’s understandable for it to take some time, and for there to be a lot of emotion to process, so it’s never going to be an ‘overnight’ thing, but it could also be that the grief being felt isn’t just for the relationship itself. You see when we lose a relationship, we don’t just lose the relationship, we also lose the potential for what it could be, the sadness that maybe it wasn’t what we thought it was, and for a future that we will never experience (obviously depending on the circumstances of the marriage coming to an end). There can be many other things tangled up in the sense of loss that can make dealing with it overwhelming. My advice in these circumstances is always to get some help and support with working through the process. I’m a coach and a mentor myself, but whenever I’m dealing with something difficult I always go to another coach or mentor to help me through it. Sometimes we don’t know how to deal with it, sometimes even if we know the tools the fact that we’re ‘in’ it makes it hard to guide ourselves through. If you’d like any advice or recommendations, just let me know.

      Reply

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