Alcohol and Emotional Resiliance

There was a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology on 13th July 2017 that analysed the relationship between the acceptance of negative emotion and psychological health in 1,300 adults.

What the study found was that people who regularly accept their negative emotions experience fewer negative emotions and as a consequence experienced better psychological health. The study found that feelings of disappointment, sadness or resentment inflicted more damage upon people who avoided them.

The advice was simple. When you are experiencing negative emotions you should let your feelings happen and allow yourself to experience them without trying to control or change them.

If you think about it this does make sense. Take me for an example, I don’t particularly enjoy conflict, and neither to I enjoy speaking in front of people. However despite this I seem to have ended up in a job which is made up of equal parts arguing (although these days it is known as ‘dispute resolution’) and talking in front of people. When I started out I was terrified and got very nervous before every meeting that I knew was going to be difficult and / or attended by a large number of people. However I have done it so many times now that I am used to it, to such an extent that I don’t really get nervous even if I am going into very difficult meetings with a lot of people present. If I’d never faced up to it and just got on with it however, I would never have got used to it and would still be terrified of it. If you face an unpleasant and difficult situation and get through it, you find it that much easier to get through it the next time. If you experience it regularly then it ceases to worry you and becomes the norm.

As humans our perception of what is good and bad is linked to our own experiences. For people in war zones a bad day is having their family killed, or loosing limbs, or facing the actual prospect of freezing or starving to death. A good day would be a decent meal and somewhere safe to sleep for a few hours. However for most people in the western world a bad day would be something going wrong at work, an argument at home, being unable to pay bills, etc. I am not say that these things aren’t stressful but they are clearly preferable to having your legs blown off, or watching your children freeze to death. For the majority of us starvation is simply not a realistic prospect, and a meal and somewhere safe to sleep is something we just take for granted. They don’t cause us to be particularly happy because they are the norm.

When I served in Iraq one of the high points for me was having a shower, putting on clean clothes, and going to sleep in an actual bed for a few hours. I was absolutely ecstatic if I could do that. However now, over ten years down the line, whilst I might enjoy doing that it wouldn’t exactly be the highlight of my week.

My point is that ‘good’ is better than what we are used to, and ‘bad’ is worse than what we are used to. If you are anaesthetising the bad then you can never properly appreciate the good, which after all if just an improvement on the bad. If you are in an unpleasant situation for any length of time, such as being in prison on being in the military on active service, you eventually get used to it and very small things can make you happy. Of course it doesn’t have to be anything as drastic as prison or being in a war zone, you might just be going thought a bad patch with work or a relationship, or have health or housing issues, but if you are constantly anesthetising with alcohol you are never actually experiencing these negative emotions, you are never facing them and learning to deal with them and becoming more resilient to them. This is what happens when we are constantly taking a drink to take the edge off our feelings whenever we experience anything negative. We are anesthetising feelings rather than facing them with the result that we never learn to deal with them.

When a person stops drinking they don’t stop living, they continue to live life, with all the good and the bad. There is a very pronounced tendency in the western world to expect to be happy all the time. We see it as our basic right and if we are unhappy, even for a moment, we immediately look to remedy it, often by taking some kind of external drug like alcohol. Just bear in mind that you can be unhappy for a bit and if you are, it is not all negative. If you are unhappy or experiencing any kind of negative emotion, you are becoming more resilient and emotionally stronger because of it.

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4 Responses

  1. As usual great article very true and to the point I have spent most my life hiding from emotions and using drink to take the edge off this.

    Not any more

  2. Thank you for this brilliant synopsis. I’ve posted a link to it on Soberistas because so much of what we on that site work on has to do with feeling feelings.

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William Porter

William wrote Alcohol Explained to share his approach on recovering from alcohol dependency.

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