The emotional complexity Manifesto
It’s hard to be sad in 2019. There’s ‘good vibes only’ posters everywhere. Pessimism is unwelcome in most contexts. Not even the psychotherapist’s office seems to be a safe emotional outlet anymore. For those of us not powered by the ‘fake it till you make it’ mantra, the world can be a lonely place right now.
Enter the era of positivity.
Social media has presented us with the unprecedented opportunity to display only the fun, sexy, enviable parts of our existence. Fast learners as we are, we cracked the code to getting more likes, comments and followers, and being moody, grumpy, angry or feeling down has nothing to do with it.
Just like we edit our looks and our lives for likeability, we add filters to our emotions. The result is an endless feed of happiness, joy and euphoria that creates all sorts of inadequacy feelings and quite honestly makes it hard to believe that anyone else in the world might be feeling miserable.
Outside the idyllic digital world, the hustling movement has offered a way out from the occasional ‘Are you ok?’ question. ‘Tired’ became a socially acceptable — even rewarded — way of expressing all sorts of negative emotions. As long as you’re tired, it means you’re keeping yourself busy. Busy being the new rich, you must be doing well.
Why does this matter anyway? I don’t mean to divert you from the road to happiness, but the risk is that, the more you hide our emotions, and the less exposed you are to other people’s feelings, the worst you’ll become in acknowledging, identifying and expressing them. You’ll progressively lose touch with the complexity of a balanced and healthy emotional life.
Don’t get me wrong. I personally have been digging into positive concepts such as optimism, happiness and gratitude as a way to deal with chronic pain and I have found great value in cultivating emotions like appreciation, hope and compassion. But there’s no way around the feelings of loneliness, despair, angst and pure misery that come along with pain. And there shouldn’t be.
Negative emotions offer clues to unattended needs and prompt us to act on them. Take anger, for example. It works as a warning for injustice, aggression or abuse. How many social movements wouldn’t even have seen the light of day if people weren’t able to use this energy to promote change?
I say stop the nonsense. Instead of striving to hide our negative emotions, we should be learning to discern the full colour palette of a rich emotional life, from the dark sorrows to the bright joys. Only then will we be able to find healthier ways to deal with them.