Instead of facing painful emotions, I used to swallow them as far down as they would go. I’d insist that I was fine, assuring concerned friends and family with a forced smile. I’d go about my life and tell myself that I was okay despite the breakup, the setback, the bad news, whatever I was dealing with at the time.

But eventually, again and again, all of those feelings would bubble to the surface and explode in my face. Finally, I realized that suppressing my emotions wasn’t the answer—if I wanted to truly heal, I needed to truly feel.

The Only Way Out Is Through

Emotion Consultant Jessica Moore helps people transform harmful emotional patterns and learn more effective ways for working with their emotions. According to Moore, very few of us know how to properly confront our feelings and could benefit immensely if we’d only surrender to those feelings instead of avoiding them. “Everywhere I look, it seems that people are struggling with their emotions,” she says. “Our emotional health is key to our happiness, relationships, success, and ability to navigate our social world, and yet schools spend almost no time educating us around emotions. And when we end up with emotional problems, most treatments focus on getting rid of what we are feeling, as if the emotions themselves are the problem.

Most of what we are taught about emotions perpetuates the myth that just about every emotion other than happiness and joy is negative and should be avoided. Far from moving us toward emotional intelligence, these attitudes about negative emotions set us up for serious psychological dysfunction. Not only do we end up struggling with ourselves to feel something other than what we authentically feel, but we end up repressing emotions that are vital to our ability to function in the world. For instance, people who have internalized the message that anger is bad usually have a very difficult time setting healthy boundaries.

Now, when people seek to heal their emotional problems, the belief in negative emotions creates a massive handicap, leading to spiritual bypass instead of true healing. Robert Augustus Masters, PhD, defines spiritual bypass as the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs. Our cultural preference for numbing away our pain, both physical and emotional, has become so normalized that it has now become enshrined in the path to spirituality and enlightenment. But the truth is that we can’t resolve our emotional problems as long as we continue struggling not to feel. True healing requires truly feeling, and thus, the motto, “The only way out is through,” becomes an invaluable guide.”

Confronting Your Feelings: 5 Tips

1) Pause and reflect. When you find yourself facing difficult emotions, the first thing you should do is take a moment to think: What am I feeling? Where am I feeling it? Oftentimes, difficult emotions are accompanied by physical sensations, such as a tightness in the throat or butterflies in the stomach. Acknowledge these feelings in addition to your emotions.

2) Ask yourself, “why?” You should also take your time in exploring why you feel the way that you do. Why do you feel angry or frustrated? Why are you upset or nervous? It’s okay to not be okay, but exploring what has triggered these emotions can help you handle them more effectively.

3) Write it down. Writing your feelings down will help you better understand your feelings as well as confront those emotions. Furthermore, those journal entries will serve as a great resource for the next time you experience these painful emotions.

4) Open up to a trusted friend. If you feel comfortable doing so, opening up to a trusted friend or family member will also help you feel out those emotions. Your loved ones can offer love, support, and advice, which will provide you with comfort and help you move forward.

5) Let it go. Once you’ve allowed yourself to feel and understand your emotions, give yourself permission to let them go. Don’t torture yourself each day by reliving the anger, anxiety, discomfort, or pain that you felt—instead, once you’ve reached a healthy place, allow yourself to be okay again.