I know from personal experience that negative emotions can produce positive change. After many years of being in denial about the discrepancy between reality (bad wife, bad marriage) and my perceptions (good wife, good marriage), my psychic discomfort finally reached a point where I could no longer ignore the elephant in the room.
When I finally accepted the painful reality that major changes were needed, I made some tough decisions and acted on them. What ensued was a blossoming of creativity and productivity that was enabled and characterized by positive emotion, growth and meaning. My migraines and fibromyalgia dissipated, my joy returned, and I found a new level of engagement with and passion in my work. I got to know myself again, this time without the martyrdom. This growth phase was neither planned nor anticipated. Rather, it occurred organically and continuously and surprised the heck out of me. Now, the absence of that psychological and physical pain in my daily life is enough to make me want to do the Sound of Music twirl on the hill.
In some respects, my pre-divorce marriage and life were not too bad: a “nice” husband, financial security, a beautiful family, and a comfortable lifestyle. Without the feelings of loneliness, despair and resentment, I may have passively continued in this comfortable-enough, pre-change situation indefinitely. The antithesis of “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” (Harry Truman) is “If you can stand the heat, stay in the kitchen.” Which I did, for 20 years. In hindsight, I do not believe the decision to change (divorce) would have happened had I not felt consumed by negative emotions.
Psychic entropy, the opposite of flow, occurs when life’s reality interferes with your goals and intentions. When your viewpoint finally becomes clearly at odds with reality, the resulting discomfort and negative feelings that result may cause re-evaluation of perspective and change, as it did for me prior to the divorce. This transition to actually considering change is difficult, especially when the stakes accompanying the change are high. For me, introspection and self-discovery have become essential tools in denial-management. Increasing my awareness of buried feelings of sadness, despair, frustration, anger, or resentment provides an early warning system for psychic entropy and whether change is needed.
Despite my successful experience with change thus far, I’m still no change expert. At least I know now that having good self-awareness allows me to be more proactive about detecting and solving problems in my life instead of requiring that negative emotions consume me before making needed change. But if you do have to go there, don’t let those negative emotions go to waste. They’re there for a reason: get out of the kitchen.
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