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  • Exposing Yourself to Negative Emotions. Part 1

    In a recent blog series, we discussed the benefits of negative emotions. However, even armed with the knowledge that there are many benefits to these pesky negative emotions, we still frequently try to avoid them. When a situation becomes stressful we often attempt to avoid the situation. Avoiding stressful situations seems to follow common sense and does, in fact, come with short-term benefits. When we leave a stressful situation, we feel a sense of relief. However, in the long-term avoiding stressful situations makes the world we live in seem smaller and our problems bigger. This is why it is important to practice exposing ourselves to stressful situations in order to develop distress tolerance or comfort with negative emotions.

    In the book, The Unified Protocol for Transdiagnostic Treatment of Emotional Disorders: Workbook, David H. Barlow and his colleagues discuss the benefits of exposing ourselves to negative a distressing emotions. They pointed out that facing negative emotions helps us to challenge our unhelpful beliefs by allowing us opportunities to learn the following:

    1. We learn that distressing emotions are temporary. Even without taking any steps to avoid or reduce our distress, the intensity of the emotions will still subside on their own sooner or later.
    2. We can cope with negative emotions and distress better than we predicted.
    3. Even when experiencing strong negative emotions we can still perform important tasks and activities.

    In this blog series, we will discuss how we can expose ourselves to negative emotions in a way that helps us to build distress tolerance and opens up our lives. If you are interested in learning more about emotional exposure please continue reading this blog series or contact us for a free phone consultation.

    Author Dr. Jason von Stietz specializes in Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Sport/Performance Psychology in Torrance, CA.

    1. Reader


      March 14, 2020 at 10:45 pm

      Unfortunately, for me I actually experience certain negative emotions exactly that way that those beliefs describe.

      Unless I do figure out how to take care of them, they will be exactly like the list says about beliefs: that these emotions are not temporary, that they will stay forever (won’t subside on their own), and that they will not allow you to do other things.

      Exposure itself doesnt really fix any of that or make it easier over time. Repeating exposure does not make them an iota better.
      What does is if I figure them out and deal with them rationally (sooner or later). Which does eventually mean “invalidation” of the emotions. I plain just put them in place, devalue their importance, and take action accordingly.

      So all in all, in my experience, they do need to be controlled and disciplined and “invalidated”, so that they do not roam completely free. Rationality is essential for that. Much like disciplining kids to have them learn how to behave socially.