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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

The Great Illusion of Good and Bad Feelings

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Jul 8th 2010

comedy tragedyIn my writings and in my work with clients I often talk about the misattribution of judgment onto feelings. For example, we often think and refer to feelings of sadness and anger as negative or bad feelings and joy and calm as positive or good feelings. The problem with this is that it creates a dynamic within us where we want to avoid or push away these "bad" feelings and in doing that we often exacerbate them. But where do these associations come from?

I was recently watching a video of a woman teaching 4 year olds how to do deep belly breathing. She did some wonderful things such as showing them how voluptuously shaped bottle fills up the bottle and then she pours it out. She then tells the children to do the same with their breathing, breathing all the way in like they would fill the bottle and then out.

However, I thought it was interesting when she said breathe in all the "good" feelings like happiness and breathe out all the "bad" feelings.

I thought, huh, that's interesting, that's where we get it from. We are taught or reinforced from adults that these are good and bad feelings and so that association gets wired into our brains from a very young age making it difficult to shake those judgments.

It makes more sense to me to label them what they actually are which are comfortable and uncomfortable feelings. Although some people might get quite comfortable with sadness or anger, generally, they are uncomfortable.

This creates an opening for us to see if we can "be with" discomfort instead of reacting to it with avoidance which ends up putting stress on top of the discomfort.

Even stress can be an uncomfortable feeling, but is there a way to notice how it manifests in the body and choose to be aware of the tension or tightness and choose to breathe with it?

When we do this, we disconnect the cycle of stressful thoughts leading to anxiousness which lead to tension in the body that sends the message to the brain that something is wrong and leads to more stressful and worried thoughts. The cycle continues.

Yes, there may be discomfort, but it's not bad, it's the reality of the moment and choosing to feed it with a kind attention is far more healing than labeling it as "bad" and creating an unconscious need to avoid.

As always, please share your thoughts, feelings (comfortable or uncomfortable), and stories below. Your interaction provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

On Feeling - - Mar 16th 2011

awareness without the want to understand, reaction to the emotional,hormonal body input with only the awareness of the feeling.

humour in my experience has a definite uniting feeling 


sensations - John - Dec 29th 2010

Excellent. I have recently been working with feeling in terms of seeing them for what they are. Nothing more than sensations. Amazing how we tell ourselves so many lies about them and in turn create so much trouble for ourselves.

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