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Musings for the Modern Mystic

Musings for the Modern Mystic

Black Sheep and Bad Emotions: Why Both Are Necessary for A Life Well Lived

Black Sheep and Bad Emotions: Why Both Are Necessary for A Life Well Lived


Last Updated on April 9, 2024

Feeling down? You may not realize it, but that sensation can be helpful if you choose to make the best of it. Yet this is something none of us have ever been taught. Our so-called ‘bad emotions’, particularly for those of us from Western culture, are instead ‘pretended away’, stuffed down, stifled or ignored — anything but actually admitting them to ourselves, let alone allowing them to been seen by others.

Instead, we are taught to seize only what has been labelled as ‘good’ (including competitiveness, whether spoken or unspoken), and left to deal with everything else on our own, as if this seemingly perplexing phenomena were some kind of emotional corollary to junk DNA — present, but holding no known usefulness for us or the culture at large. The overwhelming subliminal message everywhere is something akin to a giant shoulder-shrug: I dunno. Deal with it.

For many members of our society, this appears to work. Ostensibly, at least. Across the course of their childhood they slowly manage to adapt, mimicking the conventionality, etiquette and underlying impetus behind the behaviors of their respective peers, parents and teachers.

The rest of us, however — by far the minority — continue to struggle long after everyone else has somehow seemingly ‘disappeared’ the bulk of those pesky, unacceptable aspects of themselves, wrestling to keep our internal storms in check any way we can — yet often not very successfully.

Eventually, after enough years of fighting and failing with the constant challenges our raging internal emotions present, we become labelled ‘black sheep’. And all too often it’s a monicker we readily accept. After all, look at the world. There must be something ‘wrong with us’.

Yet the the yin and the yang are far from useless. To the contrary, as humans, both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ emotions are essential to finding authentic, lasting balance in our lives.

“If you are the black sheep of the family, be grateful. The path can be lonely, but know that you broke free. Celebrate this freedom. You are the architect of your existence.”

~ Tanya Lee Markul

Our ‘Bad Emotions’ Are Trying To Tell Us Something

Contrary to most of the messages in our everyday reality, ‘bad’ or ‘negative’ emotions have a place that belongs within us. Of course they do! Otherwise they wouldn’t exist.

Our emotional brains – the secondary or mammalian mind – acts in accordance with what humans have evolved to become over time.  As such, our brain’s chemistry has changed to match the feelings we experience. This explains the fight-or-flight response; it also demonstrates why domesticated animals show feelings such as love and jealously.

Looking at Things from Another Angle

There’s a book that was published a few years ago, titled, “The Upside of Your Darkside: Why Being Your Whole Self — Not Just Your “Good” Self — Drives Success and Fulfillment,” which recommends a refreshing antidote to this cultural conundrum: not only should we not deny our ‘bad’ emotions, we should actually set about directly discovering them as a way to help us get in touch with our whole selves, rather than just those pleasant parts of our psyches.

In line with the Jungian theory of integration, this is juxtaposed to what many people believe to be true, since we thoroughly want to hold onto only pleasant and uplifting experiences. However, the entire spectrum of human emotion sees more than just the ‘good’.

One thing the book points out is that feelings we do not like to experience are not as suppressed in other cultures. People who live in other countries do not have the same experience of internal ups and downs.

It’s when we resist negativity that it causes more pain – even more than it would have if we had simply accepted things (the feelings that we were already experiencing) for what they are.

Finding the Bad – and Accepting It

There is always a flip-side of the coin that we would prefer to experience. Though most of us have been trained out of it, looking outside our comfort zones to find more to discover is completely natural. Even when we realize that life will not always go the way we want or hope it will, there are always opportunities to learn — and learning means growth. It means developing the muscles of our own, internal data, gathered from our personal life experiences, by integrating it. And what this leads to, eventually, is genuine wisdom. 

Yet does this mean we must sacrifice ourselves completely?  Should we just give up and let the negative take over?

No, because what we seek, we shall find. We do not want to only look for the ugly side; we simply want to recognize it exists and accept it, allowing it its role in the respective drama that issued the casting-call for it in the first place.

The implication here is that you ought to allow yourself to experience all of your emotions, so when the bad feelings show up, they do not hurt you so completely.

Things to Take into Consideration with This Practice

There will be challenges, of course, but you will likely find a form of personalized enlightenment beginning to manifest along the way. Note there are some points to keep in mind.

  1. While it is possible to change ourselves at the root level, it remains extremely rare, due to our character structure being unconscious and somatically embedded. It can take years of psychoanalytic/physical (bioenergetic) work to do so.  
  2. Just as there is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in your life, there is also ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in the world.
  3. There is no sense in resisting the painful side of life, because it will be there regardless. It’s your reaction to it that counts.

You Can’t Change Your Natural State

The first point – it being exceptionally challenging to change ourselves at the root, unconcsious level – is important to the idea of using your dark side to help you find your light side. We are bound to retain whatever we learned as younger people; as such, we will cling tightly to those beliefs.

Additionally, innate personality traits also persist. This means you will generally try to stick with whatever is comfortable and normal to your sense of self. If you are a pessimistic person, then looking at the dark side will come easily – that is what you look for in life. 

However, if you see yourself as a positive person, this practice will be much more difficult; it is possible you will give up quickly as it won’t provide the comfort you normally seek. If you find it to be too painful, that is because it’s working. So don’t give up.

While this is indeed counterintuitive to what many other schools of thought out there will tell you — you’ll often hear or read, “Stop if it begins to hurt,” — it has to be. Otherwise it’s ultimately the same ‘stuff it or ignore it’ solution that got us here in the first place. So when things get tough, the best thing you can do is come back to the over-arching knowledge that there is indeed a point to this — which is, again, wisdom — and then gauge accordingly. Be honest with yourself. You know intuitively when to push, and when to pull back.

Two Sides to Every Story

The second idea to be considered is that there are two sides to everything, both good and bad. There is no escaping it, no matter how hard we try. To accept ourselves for who we are, it is useful to embrace both as a way to teach ourselves how to do better with what we have.

The light side of our personalities, the part that most people present to others (the persona) and try their best to hold onto, is of course quite valuable. But so is the dark side! The shadow can indeed act as a very powerful catalyst to change, propelling us ultimately into greater wholeness over the long run. 

Attempting to hold onto merely one side of ourselves can be harmful, because we are not utilizing our full selves to reach our ultimate potential.

Don’t Fight It — You’ll Only Hurt More

As with the previous two points, the third is interrelated with the overall concept in a number of ways, but the main thrust of it is: resistance to negative feelings causes us to suffer more. Those ‘bad emotions’ we find within ourselves should not be inhibited. Instead, they should be managed and harnessed to help us achieve growth. 

For example, if you are grieving over a loss, fighting your painful emotions will not help you feel better. By accepting those feelings and searching them for meaning, you will not only become more at peace, you will learn a new coping skill.

If you instead choose to suppress your feelings of loss, or ignore them even as they’re happening, they will linger longer and you will likely learn little. Dysfunction, in one form or another, will continue to rear its ugly head.

But it goes further than this. By not only allowing these darker emotions their existence, but finding a proper avenue for their expression, you tap into an outlet known in psychological circles as ‘sublimation’. Comedy or other artistic pursuits are prime real estate here — many of the world’s greatest artists are masters of it, whether they realize it or not.

If this is you, and you have a so-called ‘excessive dark side’ that you’re not allowing to find a form of expression, it will likely sabotage your life in some very unpleasant ways. Start searching for a creative outlet that feels right to you.

Final Thoughts on Tapping Into Your ‘Bad Emotions’

Perhaps the most meaningful thing to take from this practice is that we do not need to harm ourselves by holding onto only one side of life.

There is a wealth of creative power in what has been labelled our ‘bad emotions’, just as there is in the ‘good’. When we learn how to step back from both, not forcing ourselves to fully follow or deny either due to the labels they’ve been given from the wider culture, we’ll eventually gain access to deeper states of being that are far more authentic. We will be much more whole.


  • Heather Harper

    An avid coffee drinker, and lover of all things artistic, Heather migrated to the Midwest in 2010. Her favorite topics include mindfulness practices, psychology, and art history.

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