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Negative emotions are like having a pain in your foot.

You can have a pain in your foot for a lot of different reasons. Maybe your shoes don’t fit. Maybe you walked too much yesterday. Maybe you have a corn or a callus. Maybe your foot is broken. Maybe you have arthritis. Maybe you have nerve damage in your feet so it sends you pain signals even when nothing is wrong. It’s important to investigate, figure out exactly what is wrong, and fix it.

It is a bad idea to go “foot pain is bad, and only bad people have foot pain! Therefore my feet don’t hurt.” If you try that, the only thing that’s going to happen is that you’re going to hobble around with a corn for the rest of time. Your foot pain isn’t bad. Whatever’s causing your foot pain is bad, but the foot pain itself is useful! It’s telling you that something is wrong. If you didn’t have any foot pain, you’d never find out when your feet were broken.

It is also a bad idea to go “walking makes my feet hurt, so I am just going to sit on this couch for the rest of time.” Maybe it’s actually your shoes, and if you stopped trying to never wear anything but ballet boots you’d be able to walk fine. Maybe you need to do some physical therapy exercises to get your feet to feel better, even though they hurt; sometimes you need to push through your pain. It’s important to push through your foot pain in a smart way, though; some things that are beneficial hurt, but not everything that hurts is beneficial.

So consider, say, jealousy.

You can feel jealous for a lot of different reasons. Maybe you feel insecure that your partner will find someone a lot smarter and prettier and better than you and then leave you. Maybe your partner isn’t taking enough time for you; you feel lonely and neglected. Maybe your partner gets to do all kinds of cool stuff with his long-distance partner, and the last four conversations you had with him were all about the laundry, and you feel annoyed because you bet he never talks with his long-distance partner about laundry. Maybe you’re naturally monogamous, and trying to be poly, and you feel like your partner dating someone else takes away the specialness of your relationship.

(This comes from a polyamorous context, obviously, but I suspect it should be applicable to monogamous people– after all, nothing about monogamy says you can’t be insecure, neglected, or envious.)

And all of those reasons have different solutions. Maybe you need to work on your sense of self-worth and security, so that you don’t worry your partner will leave. Maybe you need to say to your partner “I want to spend more time with you– let’s have a date night once a week.” Maybe you need to remind yourself that you and your partner’s long-distance partner both have an identical amount of cool stuff, it’s just that yours are spread out over a year while his are crammed into a week when he’s in town, and the latter isn’t actually better. Maybe you need to stop being poly.

It is a bad idea to say “jealousy is bad, and only bad people are jealous! Therefore I’m not jealous.” Jealousy isn’t bad. The cause of your jealousy might very well be bad, but the jealousy itself is useful! It’s telling you that something is wrong. If you didn’t have any jealousy, you’d just run around with neglected relationship needs and no sense of self-worth for the rest of time.

It is also a bad idea to go “when you talk to men by yourself I feel jealous, so you can’t ever talk to men by yourself ever again.” You might not be dealing with the actual problem: maybe the actual problem is that your partner never talks to you about his feelings, which– notably– is not solved by telling him not to talk to other men. The actual issue goes unresolved. And sometimes you have to push through the pain of jealousy: maybe you’re afraid he’ll leave you if he finds someone else attractive. Fear doesn’t go away if you try to avoid it; it only grows. To defeat fear, you have to face it. Of course, that’s dependent on the problem actually being fear: if your problem is that your partner dating other people takes away the specialness, facing them dating other people is not going to fix it. There is no point in going about doing every unpleasant thing, but sometimes it’s a good idea to do some unpleasant things.

You may replace ‘jealousy’ with sadness, fear, anger, disgust, guilt, or shame, as you like.