It’s OK to admit that you’re not OK. Here’s why getting those negative feelings out can help.

Share on Pinterest
GUILLE FAINGOLD / Stocksy

You’ve had a long, miserable week.

A filling broke, requiring an urgent dental appointment. You had a big argument with your favorite brother. Upcoming changes announced at work have led you to worry about losing your job.

Just today, you dropped your new phone, chipping the screen. When you asked a group of coworkers to wear their masks correctly, they laughed and ignored you. Your best friend hasn’t replied to your texts. The only text you got all day, in fact, was a blunt cancellation from your Tinder date.

When life pushes you into a pool of misery, sometimes you want to wallow. You don’t want to look at the bright side or count your blessings, and that’s absolutely OK.

Bottling up your pain and refusing to acknowledge it can do more harm than good in the end.

It’s true that gratitude and reframing strategies may help raise your spirits, but venting your woes is still a great place to start.

Throwing yourself a “pity party” offers the chance to express frustration and pain and begin letting them go — leaving you ready to explore more productive solutions.

Sure, venting can feel good, but does it really help? Science says yes.

Venting can ease distress

Think of a time you shared something worrying or upsetting with a loved one. After getting it off your chest, maybe you really did feel a sense of relief or lightness. Your problem wasn’t solved, but you no longer felt quite so stressed about it.

Affect labeling, or using words to express feelings, can help your brain react less strongly to negative emotions, suggests research from 2007.

Expressing unwanted emotions, either out loud or in writing, can make it easier to process and manage them. So, when you vent, you’re doing yourself a favor.

Venting can offer deeper insight

Letting emotions take shape in words can also help you make sense of them.

Sometimes, you might feel “bad” without having a clear idea as to why. Not ready to unknot the tangle of unpleasant emotions, you push them aside and make every effort to ignore them.

Avoiding difficult feelings won’t make them go away, though. In fact, avoiding them can often make those feelings worse.

It’s often only when you begin to acknowledge and explore the potential reasons for your emotions that you find yourself able to navigate that pain and heal.

Self-pity can open the door to self-compassion

Take a moment to imagine how you would react if a friend wanted to unburden their troubles. You’d probably urge them to open up as you stood by, ready to listen and offer words of comfort.

Don’t you deserve the same support?

Naming the reasons behind your stress gives you a chance to acknowledge the emotional turmoil they cause. Realizing, “Wow, I really am dealing with a lot right now,” makes it easier to treat yourself with kindness and compassion instead of judgment.

Life is made up of a full spectrum of experiences, so you’re bound to face pain and hardship along your way. Moments of self-pity can help you acknowledge your pain as real and valid while also reminding you that messy, complicated, and uncomfortable feelings are absolutely normal.

Leading self-compassion researcher Kristen Neff emphasizes that self-compassion isn’t self-pity but an antidote. Simply listening to your own pain and showing yourself the kindness you’d offer a loved one can help you begin to lay down that burden.

Think of toxic or dismissive positivity as a blanket of positivity, real or forced, that muffles any emotion or mindset daring to challenge one key idea:

“Everything is just fine, or it will be soon if you just try harder.”

This “fear of a negative outlook” (FONO, if you prefer acronyms) stems from the completely understandable desire to avoid unpleasant and uncomfortable situations or feelings.

Turning your back on negativity often seems like the answer to life’s turbulence and unpredictability. Certainly, positivity and optimism are great traits to have, and they can boost resilience in tough times.

However, enforcing a mandate of “good vibes only,” on social media or in your personal life, is not helpful to anyone.

Just as darkness helps us appreciate light, pain can help us embrace joy. As a visionary study from more than 20 years ago taught us, denying unwanted emotions can make it harder to recognize anyemotion authentically.

Also, insisting loved ones practice #goodvibesonly can make their experiences seem trivial. As a result, they might hesitate to confide in you when they need support.

Toxic positivity self statements to avoid:Consider being honest with your feelings instead:
I just won’t think about it. That DID happen to me. I’m allowed to feel angry/sad/confused about it.
Things can always be worse.This feels really tough right now.
Just smile! I’ll feel better.I’m having a really bad day today, but it’s OK to not be OK right now.
I choose to be happy.It’s OK to cry.
Everything will work out if I stay positive.It’s hard when things don’t go the way I’ve planned. But I gave it my best effort.
I’m just grateful for what I have.It’s really hard to be positive right now and that’s OK.

The “no negativity here” mindset can do a lot of damage.

For one thing, it dismisses and denies reality. It’s perfectly natural to experience sadness, frustration, and anger when you come up against life’s various setbacks.

Take the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with fear of the virus itself, many people continue to face more emotional issues and mental health symptoms than ever before, including:

According to the COVID Impact Survey, nearly 60 percent of Americans reported feeling anxious, depressed, lonely, or hopeless in the past week during the pandemic.

Messages of toxic positivity gloss over these experiences, highlighting the benefits of lockdown and presenting quarantine as an opportunity for self-growth.

You’ve probably seen plenty of these messages yourself:

  • More time to sleep and work out.
  • More time to tackle that ever-growing to-do list.
  • More time with family.
  • More time for self-care and healthy routines.

Yet, if you’re struggling to weather separation from your partner and friends, job loss, physical or mental health issues, or any other pandemic effects, it might require all of your effort to get through each day. You likely won’t feel very inspired or #blessed by the chance for self-improvement.

Toxic positivity can make it seem as if there’s something wrong or bad about experiencing pain and sadness. You may come to believe you aren’t strong enough to cope with difficulties. That isn’t at all true.

In response to toxic positivity, you may begin to avoid or push back those negative feelings, only to find that trying to stop them ends up making them stronger.

People commonly categorize unwanted emotions as “bad.” Yet even the uncomfortable emotions offer important tools that can help you navigate situations more productively.

Suppressing feelings can negatively affect your mental and physical health. In fact, research from 2013 suggests a link between emotion suppression and increased risk of early death.

Avoiding or denying your feelings might, for example, increase your stress and may even contribute to health issues down the line, such as cancer or heart disease.

You’re probably tired of hearing things like:

  • “Just think positive!”
  • “Look on the bright side!”
  • “At least … (insert well-meant but singularly unhelpful platitude of choice).”

We get it. Although you might not be able to change what other people say, these tips can help you say no to #FONO.

Remember, emotions come in all flavors

You can’t pick and choose the emotions you experience. Sorrow, joy, anger, love, grief, excitement — they’re all a part of life. Denying what you feel means denying your life experiences, even your very identity.

Everyone faces difficulties, so you’re in good company. It’s pretty uncommon to go through life without ever having a negative thought or moment of self-pity.

Remember, too, that emotions are complex. You probably won’t experience only one at any given moment. So, even in a state of loneliness and frustration, you might also find some humor and love.

Share your feelings — every last one of them

Most people find it easy to talk about positive emotions and events, but it’s important to share negative feelings, too.

When you openly voice the bad with the good, you:

  • normalize having a full range of emotional experiences
  • ease the impact of painful emotions
  • gently remind your loved ones to do the same — and let them know you’ll listen when they do

If friends and others in your life don’t want to make space for your problems, you certainly can’t force them to listen. Still, it’s worth considering how authentic that friendship can be, if you can’t truly open up.

Validate yourself and others

Everyone has different go-to strategies for managing stressful situations.

Some people need more time than others to process emotions. You might need to really sit with (and vent) your misery to work through it. Instead of pushing yourself to “get over it,” remember that you’re honoring your needs.

There’s no harm in finding the silver lining in every storm cloud, either, just as long as you recognize others might cope in different ways.

Encouraging others to share their feelings openly is one way of saying, “You matter, and your experiences count.”

Venting about all the difficulties you’re facing and expressing your frustration and pain can help you manage your emotions and improve your well-being.

All the same, an ongoing pity party can be unhelpful, since dwelling on negative thoughts can keep you trapped in a cycle of constant distress.

All parties have to come to an end sometime. To break up your pity party, try these tips.

Avoid self-criticism and self-blame

There’s a big difference between negative emotions and negative self-talk. Limiting your party to emotions can keep it from getting too crowded.

Explore your anger, disappointment, fear, regret, or crushing sense of injustice. Talk through them, put on music that fits your mood, write or sketch them out. But however you choose to process and express, avoid giving space to judgmental thoughts, such as:

  • “I should have tried harder.”
  • “I never do anything right.”
  • “I don’t deserve to be happy.”

When they come up, acknowledge them and let them go. Brief mindfulness meditation exercises can help you develop this skill.

Process your emotions, don’t agonize over them

Some people can’t stop thinking about a past stressful event. Instead, they think about it constantly, reliving that experience and those emotions over and over again.

Ruminating – replaying the details of the event on a loop in your mind – can prolong those emotions, which can lead to other mental health issues.

In fact, a 2013 study found that ruminating on and constantly thinking about stressful events of the past can lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression, as it stops you from truly processing your emotions.

True emotional processing happens when you are able to face your emotions and understand them.

A good way to do that is to check in with yourself and say: “What am I actually feeling as a result of this?” Sometimes breaking that emotion down to one of the core emotions – anger, joy, shame, fear, sadness – can be helpful.

Sometimes we can’t think our way out of feeling – we have to feel those emotions so that we can process them.

Keep a realistic outlook

Emotions are complex, and they generally don’t show up alone.

When you’ve lost something, whether that’s a job, a partner, or a way of life, you’ll probably spend some time grieving. It’s also normal to notice other emotions mingling:

  • relief if you didn’t love your job
  • hope for a new relationship
  • excitement over new possibilities

Making space to sit with these emotions as they come up can help you recognize what you can’t change (losing your job) and explore ways to move forward (rethinking what you really want to do). This clearer outlook can help you begin working toward real change.

Give yourself small goals

Making an effort to do only one rewarding task each day can often help boost your mood.

To keep them manageable, base these goals on what you feel up to. Maybe one day, take a walk. Next, consider calling a friend. On another day, check an item off your to-do list.

As you complete your goal, try to stay present for that entire stretch of time without dwelling on any negative thoughts.

Setting unwanted emotions aside to work through later isn’t the same as denying them. Rather, 2011 research suggests that “thought postponement” could help improve how you manage your emotions.

Turn to those who really support you

When you’re ready to share your emotions, reach out to people you know will listen with empathy and respect your feelings and experiences. Knowing that loved ones support you can make a big difference.

Avoid venting to those friends who tend to overly identify with your experience. You know the ones who turn the conversation into talking about their own experience at the expense of yours. Or, those who are intensely loyal and get more upset than you do about the situation, leaving you amped up rather than relieved.

Remember, it’s always OK to explain you aren’t looking for advice or revenge – sometimes a listening ear is all that’s needed.

Try: “I’m not looking for solutions right now. I just need someone to listen.”

Taking a break from social media can help you avoid unwanted “positive vibes only” messages that can make you feel worse.

Do things that make you feel good

Getting caught up in sadness, hopelessness, and other distress can make it tough to feel good about anything, even things you usually enjoy.

Yet relaxation and self-care remain important since they can help improve your present mood and your outlook for the future.

Adding small bursts of pleasure to your day can help you take a break from pity and remind yourself that life still has its ups.

Burying emotions you don’t want to face can seem helpful in the moment, but it won’t make them go away. Truly letting go of negative feelings means bringing them out into the open.

So go on, throw yourself a pity party — and cry if you want to! Crying can do you good, too.

If you continue to struggle with expressing negative feelings or working through them productively, a therapist can offer additional guidance and support.