How Not To Deal With Emotions

Emotions can be a great source of richness in our lives. However, when faced with overpowering negative emotions like sadness, guilt, fear and anger, our lives can seem overwhelming.

Most of us have never learned to deal with our emotions. Instead, as Sheri Van Dijk notes in The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook: Using DBT to Regain Control Of Your Emotions and Your Life:

Generally, if you’re experiencing an uncomfortable emotion, you don’t want it to stick around. That’s because it’s uncomfortable, of course. Ironically, this desire to get rid of unpleasant emotions can cause you to behave in ways that cause the emotion to stick around or even to become more intense.

Some of the most common ways we try to get rid of unpleasant emotions are by problems solving them, fighting or attempting to control our emotions, or trying to suppress or avoid them completely. In this post we’ll look at what happens when you try to problem-solve your emotions.

Problem-Solving Emotions

emotionsMost of us learn from an early age how to think logically and solve problems rationally, and so it’s natural that we try to use thinking and logic to solve our emotional problems. However, emotions are not something we can rationalize and think our way out of.

Emotions don’t conform to rational principles; they don’t listen to logic. We can’t think our feelings away, figure out through logic why we should or shouldn’t feel a certain way, or use rational arguments with our emotions to change them.

But since most of us haven’t learned any other tools help us deal with emotions, we rely on the rational and logical problem-solving methods we already know to deal with emotions when they begin to become a problem. So we continue to try to out-think our emotions, to rationalize how we should feel.

Unfortunately this doesn’t work. Instead of reducing the strength of the emotion we’re struggling with, trying to problem solve emotions tends to lead to more problems. Our unpleasant emotions become even stronger. Our mind starts racing, we start thinking in circles, and ruminating and dwelling on the same thing over and over.

The emotions we were trying to problem solve away are still there, and once our mind starts racing, we create added stress and anxiety, and it becomes even more difficult to relax and calm our emotions.

In the next couple of posts, we look at two other counterproductive ways of trying to deal with our emotions: controlling them and avoiding them altogether. So if problem-solving, controlling and avoiding our emotions doesn’t work, what can we do when faced with strong, unpleasant emotions? The best way to respond to our emotions is with acceptance.

Guelph Therapist Greg Dorter

I’m a Guelph therapist specializing in helping people overcome stress, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. For more information about how I can help you manage stress and anxiety, or to make an appointment for counselling or therapy, please call me at 226-500-4086 or email

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