Someone asks what accepting her feelings - a suggestion BR makes in the affirmations segment of the Depression CD - has to do with healing, when it seems like a much better idea to reject and avoid feelings of fear, anger, sadness and hopelessness.. Dear Belleruth,

One question I have about your affirmations. Several times you mention that I should "accept what I feel" to "help me heal", even feelings like "worry, hopelessness, fear, anger, sadness." It seems to me that I should reject and avoid such feelings, rather than accepting them. Can you help me understand this?

J. P.

Dear J.P.,

I’m really glad you asked this question, because it’s a common misunderstanding people have - that we need to reject and avoid "unpleasant" feelings like anger, sadness, fear and hopelessness in order to surmount them.

But that’s not how it works. If we try to sidestep what we feel, it perversely gets more intense, or else it goes underground and comes back to bite us when we’re not looking.

I think feelings are just feelings. They’re not voluntary, the way that actions, words or even thoughts are. Feelings are more like the natural flow of energy inside of us, with emotional flavor attached to them. When we train ourselves to observe them, acknowledge them, identify them, differentiate them, and give an honest nod of recognition to them, they tend to shift and move of their own accord. Because that’s what feelings do, if we don’t interrupt their natural flow.

That’s not to say we should give ourselves permission to wallow in them, pump them up, exaggerate them, sink into them or roll around in them. But if we can watch them come and go, with a non-judgmental interest and detached curiosity, then they really do come and go. The natural state of feelings is to move and change.

But when we judge them, push them back, deny them, think less of ourselves for having them, they stick around. It’s those judgments about our feelings that cause them to adhere to us, and take up residence, so to speak.

Depression especially is very connected with harsh self-judgment and not allowing authentic feelings to just be what they are. By tamping down or disowning the natural, juicy energy of our feelings, we sit on our natural power and authenticity. By acknowledging to ourselves that this is the truth of what we feel right now, this is the way it is, we give ourselves permission to be alive.

Now, that’s not to say we should necessarily act on these feelings, express them, or impose them on others. Maybe we should and maybe we shouldn’t. That has to be determined by the ethics, appropriateness, external reality and functional usefulness for the situation.

But to honestly acknowledge to yourself what the emotional truth is for you? Absolutely! And that’s why mindfulness meditation is such a great antidote for depression and suffering of all sorts. Mindfulness is practicing the discipline of watching what we feel, think, and sense, without judgment – and if we find ourselves judging, watching that too!

I hope this helps.