Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them

Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them

by Tina Gilbertson

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“Constructive wallowing” seems like an oxymoron. Constructive is a good thing, but wallowing is bad. Right? But wait a minute; is it really so terrible to give ourselves a time-out to feel our feelings? Or is it possible that wallowing is an act of loving kindness, right when we need it most? Just about everyone loves the idea of self-compassion -- the notion that maybe in spite of our messy emotions and questionable behavior, we really aren’t all that bad. In recent years there’s been an explosion of books that encourage readers to stop beating themselves up for being human, which is terrific. Unfortunately, readers who aren’t interested in Buddhism or meditation have been left out in the cold. Self-compassion is an everyday habit that everyone can learn, even if they a) aren't particularly spiritual, b) find most books about self-compassion too serious, or else c) have already overdosed on meditation. Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them is the first book to cut right to the chase, bypassing descriptions of Eastern philosophy and meditation techniques to teach readers exactly how to accept and feel their feelings with self-compassion for greater emotional health and well-being … while making them laugh from time to time. It seems that the wisdom of “keeping your friends close and your enemies closer” applies to emotions as well as people. It’s tempting to turn away from menacing, uncomfortable feelings like anger, grief or regret and treat them like unwanted guests; however, ignoring them just seems to make them stick around. They lurk in the background like punks with switchblades, waiting to pounce as soon as they see an opening. By learning to accept and embrace, rather than suppress, difficult feelings, people can keep their sense of personal power and, better yet, gain greater understanding and ultimately esteem for themselves. Feeling bad can actually lead to feeling better, faster!

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781936740963
Publisher: Viva Editions
Publication date: 05/19/2014
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 595,749
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Psychotherapist TINA GILBERTSON, LPC, is a former actress with credits that include TV's "The X-Files." She counsels individuals and adults and teaches personal growth classes in Portland, Oregon.
Tina Gilbertson is a successful therapist workshop leader and blogger living in Portland OR.

Read an Excerpt

Many years ago, long before I could even spell the word “psychotherapy,” let alone had any experience with it, I stumbled on the therapeutic power of wallowing while driving on a Los Angeles freeway. No one was hurt in the process, I’m happy to say!

In my mid-20s, I was nurturing a dream of becoming an actress, mostly because I wanted a job that didn’t feel like work or require me to wear a uniform. If I’d known I could achieve those aims as a counselor in private practice, I could have gone right back to school and saved myself a bundle on headshots.

Anyway, there I was in 1995, living in Hollywood, following the dream. But driving home from acting class one day, I was not happy.

I was thinking about a young woman in my class who was not only a talented actress, but also smart, funny, utterly charming and easily twice as pretty as me. She was seriously cramping my style; I wanted to be the best actress, the “phenom,” in that class. She was upstaging me just by being there. Her hair had more talent than I did. I was miserable.

The acting teacher, on whose opinion I’d hung my career hopes and dreams, seemed to delight in her, while being apparently incapable of remembering my name even after three months of weekly classes. Compared to her, I felt as exciting as a fake fern. How was I supposed to “wow” the producers in the movie biz if my own acting teacher looked right through me?

As I drove home from class that day, I was aware of vaguely “icky” emotions trying to rise up inside me. I didn’t exactly know what I was feeling, I just knew it was bad. I didn’t want to feel bothered by the situation in acting class. But I was bothered.

I tried distracting myself by turning on the radio, but that didn’t work. I still felt awful, and I couldn’t find anything I liked, so I turned it off.

Unpleasant memories sprouted in my mind: The enthusiastic applause for the Other Woman’s scenes, compared to the lukewarm reception of mine; the teacher’s warm smile and high praise for her, and his distracted, more critical comments to me.

I pushed the bad feelings away, but they didn’t get the message; they hung around and kept pestering me while I drove. They were there whether I wanted them to be there or not.

Spontaneously, I decided to speak my feelings aloud. There I was in my car, sitting in traffic – this was before everyone had cell phones, let alone hands-free devices for the car – speaking to no one.

“I’m jealous.” I said.

There. It was out of the bag.

Nothing bad happened, so I said it again.

“I’m so jealous,” I said, with some curiosity about where this was going, but also with more heat this time. “I’m jealous of her and her talent and good looks. I’m jealous because the teacher thinks she’s brilliant and thinks nothing of me!”

I was on a roll now – as bizarre as it sounds, this was starting to feel kind of good, just saying exactly what I felt. “I hate that she’s the teacher’s pet. I hate that I feel like chopped liver in that class. I want what she has. I’m so jealous of her!”

Well, imagine my surprise when I discovered that I felt not worse, but better! The poison inside me was gone for the moment. While I’d been wrestling with those painful feelings, I felt toxic. But once I stopped fighting and just acknowledged them, I felt cleaner.

And then there was another weird surprise. The next feeling that came to me was actually affection for this Other Woman. She was, after all, a genuinely nice person with a cheeky sense of humor, who had made overtures of friendship to me (which I’m sure I’d rebuffed because of my insecurities).

It was as if by claiming all of my stinky feelings about the situation, I’d made room for all my other feelings, including a very real appreciation for this charming budding actress.

It turns out that’s not really too surprising; later we’ll talk about how feelings are like a cloud of trapped butterflies – it’s hard to let one out without accidentally freeing a few others.

I was flabbergasted by how much relief it brought for me to just accept how I felt. And shocked that I ended up feeling friendly toward a woman whom I’d thought of as Public Enemy Number One just a short while earlier.

I didn’t feel the need to tell her about my feelings, but I wasn’t going to lie to myself anymore. I felt jealous and small in that class. That was the truth. And in a very real and practical sense, it set me free.

I was able to see clearly for the first time how important the teacher’s approval was to me, especially since I was using his attitude to measure my chances of success as an actress. I understood why I felt so jealous of my classmate; she had something that was terribly important to me. The picture of the situation that I held in my mind became clearer, more nuanced, and less threatening.

Does that mean the difficult feelings went away? No. They lost much of their force, but they didn’t stop coming up until the class was over. Until then, the situation remained the same; the teacher continued to go back and forth between apathy and criticism toward my work, while evidently being enchanted with everything my classmate did. The situation was inherently painful. The difference that wallowing made was, the actual feelings were manageable in a way that lying to myself about them was not.

With my emotions out of the bag, ironically, they felt more under control. I had chosen to own them; they didn’t own me anymore.

The talented classmate and I became acting class buddies. We’d sit together, do scenes together and gossip about what happened in class and beyond. In the end, because of her, I looked forward to being there.

I didn’t completely stop being jealous of her. It’s just that it became okay with me if I felt jealous. It was only a feeling; it didn’t have to be a policy. There was nothing I needed to do about it. I certainly didn’t have to struggle against it.

I had to wallow in my feelings to help my jealousy integrate with the rest of me. Not to do so would have meant stuffing that jealousy down deep inside my heart somewhere, where it would remain and create a vague sense of “yuck,” keeping me from not only being happy, but enjoying a new friendship.

I had spontaneously wallowed, and it had been constructive. And all because of a random decision to stop fighting with myself and just go with what I was feeling for a moment. It’s a good thing I’m insecure and petty or this book might not have been written!

I long ago lost touch with my talented friend. A recent Internet search turned up nothing at all as far as TV, film or theater acting credits under her name, but I did find a photo of a beautiful real estate agent with a cheeky smile full of confidence. I’m not sure it was her. But I suspect she went into something that doesn’t feel like work to her, or require her to wear a uniform.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Wonderful World of Wallowing

What Would You Do If You Lost Everything?

What If You Have Everything and Still Aren’t Happy?

Sidebar: Be Where You Are

What Does Wallowing Look Like?

How to Use This Book



Chapter 1: Wallowing is Mostly Allowing

How You Cope With Anything Is How You Cope With Everything



You Can’t Wallow Unless You ALLOW

Sidebar: On Becoming Whole

The Benefits of Wallowing

The Escalation Cycle

Figure 1 The Escalation Cycle

Figure 2 The Constructive Wallowing Cycle

Finding Time to Wallow


Chapter 2: The Accidental Wallower: My Story

Getting Over a Happy Childhood

Sidebar: Lessons from the School of Hard Knocks

Ditch That Backlog!


Chapter 3: Emotions: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

Feelings vs. Emotions

“Negative” Emotions

Sidebar: Every Feeling Has Value

Having Feelings in Public

Wallowing Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

Table 1. Some Ways to Deal with Feelings

Name That Feeling!

Feelings vs. Thoughts

The Substitution Test

Table 2. Some Feeling Words


Feelings vs. Behavior

Good People Have Bad Feelings Too

How Hurting Heals

The Life Cycle of a Feeling

How to Let Painful Feelings Go

You Can’t Choose Your Feelings



Chapter 4: 11 Good Reasons to Wallow

Reason #1: You have no choice

Reason #2: It may be good for your health

Reason #3: Get your energy back

Reason #4: If you can’t feel bad, you won’t feel good

Sidebar: If You’re Not Wallowing, You’re Not Living

Reason #5: You’re never more alone than when you abandon yourself

Reason #6: What we don’t acknowledge, controls us

Reason #7: You'll feel better sooner

Reason #8: It’s natural

Reason #9: We all have something that needs healing

Reason #10: What doesn’t kill you makes you … confident!

Reason #11: Improve your relationships

Chapter 5: The T-R-U-T-H Technique

Self-Criticism: As Effective as it is Enjoyable

The Antidote: Self-Compassion

Change Your Life From the Inside Out

The T-R-U-T-H Technique

T: Tell yourself the situation

R: Realize what you’re feeling

U: Uncover self-criticism

T: Try to understand yourself

Sidebar: Constructive Surrender

H: Have the feeling

Make it Work for You

Tips for Dealing with Sadness, Anger or Fear

The Secret to Your Success


Chapter 6: Constructive Wallowing in Action

The Inconsiderate Neighbor

A Disappointing Vacation

A Loved One With a Scary Diagnosis

“I Can’t Get Over What Happened”

Mid-Life Crisis

Sidebar: To Know You is to Love You

Your Turn

The T-R-U-T-H Technique Worksheet


Chapter 7: The Daunting Dozen: Top 12 Wallowing Worries

Sidebar: Courage

Worry #1: My feelings might be wrong

Worry #2: I don’t want to be negative

Worry #3: It’s no use dwelling on the past

Worry #4: If I feel it, I have to do something about it

Worry #5: I’m being self-indulgent

Worry #6: I’m just making myself feel bad

Worry #7: I should be grateful it’s not worse

Worry #8: My feelings are draining and/or toxic

Worry #9: I don’t want to feel this way for the rest of my life

Worry #10: I should try to forgive, not hold on to my anger

Worry #11: I don’t want to cry

Worry #12: What if I can’t stop the feelings once they start?


Chapter 8: Your Wallowing Workout: 10 Activities for Heart and Mind

Nature or Nurture?

Activity 1: Feelings History

Table 2. Some Feeling Words


Activity 2: Practice Loving Yourself

Activity 3: Letter of Forgiveness to Yourself

Activity 4: Letter of Apology to Yourself

Getting in Touch With Feelings

Activity 5: Relaxation

Belly Breathing

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Activity 6. Art Project

Activity 7. Listen to Your Heart

Sidebar: Trust Your Heart

How to Connect With Your Heart

Daily & Weekly Exercises

Activity 8. Know Yourself

Activity 9. Talk About Feelings

Activity 10. Weekly Feelings Chart

How to Use the Chart

Table 3. Weekly Feelings Chart

The Quiz, Take Two!


Chapter 9: Wallowing Questions & Answers

1. Is there such a thing as NON-constructive wallowing?

2. What if I can’t cry?

3. Should I really wallow in GUILT?

4. What about anxiety? Should I wallow in that?

5. I believe in The Law of Attraction. How can I wallow in negative feelings without attracting negativity?

6. Will wallowing help me feel better about a situation I can’t change?

7. What if I always have the same feelings in every relationship I’m in?

8. If feelings are never wrong, why do they sometimes change when we get new information?

9. Why can’t I just change my feelings by changing my thoughts?

10. Why do some feelings seem to last so long?

Figure 1. Perceived feeling duration

Figure 2. Actual feeling duration

11. How do I cultivate compassion for myself without feeling phony?

Sidebar: Compassion Heals

How to Choose a Therapist

What Feelings-Friendly Therapy Looks Like

Where to Find a Therapist

Questions to Ask Before You Begin

Your Journey Begins



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