Mental Health

You Don’t Need To Fix Your Feelings

You can just let them be — and then, eventually, pass.

by Anonymous, as told to Anna Goldfarb

My Therapist Says is Elite Daily’s column rounding up life-changing therapeutic advice. In this edition, a 21-year-old college junior tells writer Anna Goldfarb how therapy helped her learn how to sit with uncomfortable emotions.

I'm someone who likes to identify my emotions as they occur. I always try to tackle my emotions before they tackle me. If something is unsettling me, I’m quick to say, “Oh, I’m feeling anger” or “Wow, I’m really upset.”

I’m a psych major, and so I know that labeling emotions can be a helpful tool to process what’s happening with me, but it can be tricky — I have a tendency to identify my emotions and assign a value to them. If I’m angry, it’s bad. If I’m upset, well, then it needs to be fixed. I didn’t realize that I was getting so caught in this trap of needing to fix things once I identified a negative emotion.

The best advice I received from my therapist was to not be so quick to label these feelings. She encouraged me to notice these feelings as they come up, but she said I should try to feel more dispassionate about it — just to notice that this is a feeling. I don't have to actually act on it or try to even label it. It’s just a feeling that I'm having, it’s not necessarily good or bad, and I don’t have to rush to fix the feeling.

So when I told my therapist, “I’m feeling extra sensitive to things lately. I’m feeling super fragile.” She replied, “What if we don’t label anything?”

My therapist gave me permission to give myself a break and not feel like I have to fix every negative emotion that bubbles up.

She told me that being sensitive is just me having a feeling. It doesn’t make me fragile or strong or anything other than a human being who feels emotions. It’s a mindful approach to emotions: observe them and accept that they’re happening. This strategy helped because it allowed me to notice how I was feeling without taking on the burden to both identify and solve what I was experiencing and feeling.

To anyone else, it may not seem like some incredibly wise piece of advice. It might even seem obvious: You don’t have to react to feelings as you have them. But when I was working through these things in real time, when it hit me right then and there, it felt very profound.

This particular piece of advice has had a very strong effect on me. I feel like I have a new regard for my feelings and emotions. My therapist gave me permission to give myself a break and not feel like I have to fix every negative emotion that bubbles up. I can just let the emotions exist and, eventually, pass.