08/09/2013 02:10 pm ET Updated Oct 09, 2013

How to Deal With Difficult Emotions

The other day while I was swimming at a nearby lake, I saw something of a common occurrence. A little girl, about 4 years old, screaming at the top of her lungs. She was in her mother's arms, bawling. Her mom was red with anger. She had it with her daughter's screaming. She was scolding her for crying, shaking her finger in front of her daughter's face and threatening her in a low hushed tone, "If you don't... then... !^#^%!%@." They were in public and her mother didn't want her daughter to be a nuisance.

Perhaps this is where it all starts -- a lack of permission to express our negative emotions. We learn at a young age that it's not at all appropriate to have a temper tantrum. Get angry. How about some rage? "No! Play nice. Share your toys!" Parents do what they can to encourage "good" behavior. Recently my friend's 10-year-old son, Drew, said he learned how to shut off his emotions because he was getting bullied at school for crying. At a tender age, we're often conditioned to reject and make wrong what we feel, even feel shameful for what we feel -- and this is where the inner tension begins.

As adults, rarely do we want to admit to each other that we're having a horrible time. Instead, we choose to repress and hide. "I'm fine," we say with a terse smile. We put on a happy face and get busy doing stuff. We immerse ourselves in a constant state of distraction. We do anything but feel our negative emotions.

Shame, rage, guilt, sadness, frustration and anger. What place do these emotions have in our lives? How do we deal with dark emotions without getting engulfed in them?

If we don't deal with our negative emotions, they can end up revealing themselves in horrible ways: violence, addictions, even low-grade depression and stress. Learning how to express difficult emotions is essential to health. Emotional health affects every aspect of our life, including our relationships, vitality and productivity. Unfortunately, there is no graceful way for dealing with difficult emotions. Emotions are like tides of wave that eventually subside with time, but rise again and sometimes unexpectedly. Learning how to flow with them without being undertowed by them is key to navigating through torrential waters. This meditative GPS guide provides guidance for helping you move through deeper darker feelings.

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