25th October, 2022

If it Didn’t Hurt, There’d Be Something Wrong

With Rachel Morris

Dr Rachel Morris

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On this episode

Learning to manage your emotions is a crucial skill. No matter the situation, letting your emotions get the best of you doesn’t typically end well. However, that doesn’t mean we should shut our feelings down. Instead, it’s best to identify and analyse them first, then take action.

In this quick episode of You Are Not A Frog, I discuss difficult, negative emotions and how to handle them. We tackle what these emotions are and understand why we get them. I will also give tips on discerning whether you need to act or can safely ignore them.

If you’re struggling to manage overwhelming negative emotions, this episode is for you.

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Reasons to listen

  1. Understand negative emotions and why you feel them.
  2. Know how to deal with guilt.
  3. Learn when to act on your negative emotions and when to ignore them.

Episode highlights


The Price We Pay


Pain as Warning Bells


Not All Negative Emotions Warrant Action


Dealing With Guilt


Understanding Negative Emotions


Discerning When to Act or Ignore Negative Emotions

Episode transcript

Rachel Morris: This is a You Are Not A Frog Quick Dip, a tiny taster of the kinds of things we talk about on our full podcast episodes. I’ve chosen today’s topic to give you a helpful boost in the time it takes to have a cup of tea, so you can return to whatever else you’re up to feeling energized and inspired. For more tools, tips, and insights to help you thrive at work. Don’t forget to subscribe to You Are Not A Frog wherever you get your podcasts.

Today, I want to talk about difficult emotions. Because often, when we feel angry, when we feel anxious, when we feel worried, we think that there is definitely something wrong, and we need to change what we’re doing in order to get rid of them. But I want to challenge this idea, and help you think through the fact that actually sometimes, if it doesn’t hurt, then there is something wrong. Flip it on its head. Now, this summer, I went to Latitude with my family.

We ended up going to the comedy tent where we listened to David O’Doherty, who’s one of my favorite comedians. He’s a chap who sits there with this little Casio keyboard and plays these amazingly quirky little songs, and it’s just really fun. He was describing in graphic detail the time that he went for an STD test. Now this was quite a while ago, and the consultant was doing it the old fashioned way, sticking a swab in where it really hurt.

He describes the fact as he’s lying on the couch, and the consultant is doing the test, and he is wincing, or even screaming out loud. The consultant turns around to him with a glint in his eyes, says, “You know what, if it didn’t hurt, there’d be something wrong”. If you think about it, every relationship we have, every time we do something that risks failure, we risk being hurt, we risk things going wrong. There’s that phrase that grief is the price we pay for love.

At Latitude, almost every single band that we saw, every comedian we saw, every talk that we went to, they were talking about the fact that COVID had been a terrible time for them. They had really missed live audiences and interacting. Now, if they hadn’t missed that, then there would have been something wrong. I know that many people who were forced to stay at home during COVID, not going to the workplace, desperately miss their colleagues, desperately missed the face-to-face interactions.

You know what? There were some people that didn’t miss their workplace at all. Maybe they didn’t get along with their colleagues or there was a toxic workplace, they were totally happy to stay at home. So I would say if you weren’t suffering, if you weren’t missing things during COVID, then there would be something wrong. It is normal to feel worried, to feel hurt, too anxious, to feel bad, to feel guilty. When we get these negative emotions, our first thought is to try and squash them.

Also try and change what we do. I know, I am really guilty about that. For example, one of my children wasn’t invited to a party about six months ago, and I felt terrible. My first action was, “What can I do to change this? How can I sort this out for them?” Then I realized there was nothing that I could do. It took a lot of inner work, let’s just say, to just sit there and realize I was feeling sad, and disappointed for the child, and if it didn’t hurt, there would be something wrong.

If I wasn’t feeling worried and upset about it, then I probably wasn’t that invested in that child’s happiness. If it doesn’t hurt, then there’s something wrong. We all know that things like difficult emotions and physical pain are very good warning bells for us. They are our body’s alarm system. We know for example, that if you don’t experience pain, you’re in trouble. There are some people who have a genetic problem, which means that they don’t feel pain at all.

And this means that they are at huge risk of injury, even just lying in a funny position at night can cause some damage to their joints. We know that in leprosy, you lose your peripheral nerves and you are at risk of infection and damaging your fingers, your toes, your peripherals. So pain is a gift. Likewise, difficult emotions alert us to the fact that there may be something wrong. The problem is, most of us take difficult emotions as a sign that there definitely is something wrong and we take them as fact.

A lot of the time they are not fact they are just an alarm bell, a warning sign. I like to think of this a little bit like the warning signs that come up on my car dashboard. Now sometimes, there’s a warning sign that says, “Your boot is open. Your door’s open,” at which point, I need to stop, I need to take notice, and close it. There are some warning signs that say, “Your tires are very low,” at which point, when I can, I stop.

I measure the tire pressure, I sort that out. But there are some warning signs, for example, when I’ve got a really heavy bag on the front seat, it says “WARNING! WARNING! Passenger, no seatbelt!” I know I can ignore that warning sign, because it’s not actually true. There is no passenger that needs a seatbelt. There are some things that we can ignore. For example, the other night, we were away, and I got back really late. I’ve had a really long weekend.

We had a fantastic time. I’d been out late. I was really exhausted. Someone said something to my family that I got a bit grumpy with, if I have to be honest, and I ended up thinking, “Oh, why do they always like this?” Absolutely winding myself up about it and thinking, “I’m feeling so cross and upset. There must be something really wrong.” Luckily, I stopped myself in time, thinking, “Actually, maybe, just maybe. I need to go to bed and get an early night.”

I went to bed and it’s amazing how different things look the next day. I remember hearing a podcast with a gastroenterologist and she was talking about the fact that she often wakes up in the middle of the night feeling a bit anxious and worried about things. She had learned, through trial and error, through knowing her body, through knowing about the gut brain system, that if she feels quite uncomfortable in her gut and if she feels anxious, her first thought isn’t, “What is wrong? What am I worried about?”

Her first thought is, “What did I eat yesterday and do I need to have a cup of peppermint tea to settle things down?” Actually paying attention to our physical needs. Sometimes, the warning light is wrong. Sometimes, our emotions are just telling us that there might be something wrong, and if we stop for a minute to examine it, then actually, we find that there is nothing wrong and we can ignore that warning.

Now sometimes our emotions are telling us that there is something that needs to be changed. If we are very worried about a patient, for example, perhaps we need to do something different in our management, and that is going to spare us interaction. If we’re feeling guilty about something we’d said to somebody which upset them, we could have done something different, and maybe we were not as kind as we wanted to be, maybe we need to go put that right.

If our emotions are flagging something serious to us, we know it is not okay, we need to do something about that. Okay, so you’ve got the emotions that are warning signs, and actually, there’s nothing wrong. You’ve got the emotions that are warning signs, and actually there is something wrong. The problem is, those emotions look quite similar, and often, it’s the case of discerning that. There’s something in the middle, though. There’s those emotions that are showing us, “Yeah, there is something wrong. But actually, we don’t need to do anything about it.” And these are the emotions I think we really struggle with.

For example, saying, “No, we can’t do that extra shift.” and then feeling guilty that we put someone out, or actually stopping and saying, “I need to go home today because I have no brain power left.” Which means that that job gets delayed and someone might be a little bit inconvenienced or put out. That’s when we might feel guilty.

Does that guilt mean that we should change what we’re doing? No, it doesn’t. That guilt just means that you’re a good person. Congratulations, you’re not a psychopath, and that you’re also human being and you have your limits. But so often when we feel that guilt, we crumble and we think, “Oh no, I’ve got to sort it out, I’ve got to do something different.”

But actually, that guilt just means that if it didn’t hurt, there’d be something wrong. If you didn’t feel bad about not being able to finish all that work, if you didn’t feel bad about not being able to help out in that situation, there would be something wrong. Now many of us are getting very upset and cross about the attitude of the general public at the moment being cross that they can’t possibly access healthcare in the same way that they used to be able to do or get an instant answer, and they’re getting very vitriolic. They’re being horrible in the press.

We’re getting quite a lot of grief in the surgeries, in clinics, in the hospital. We often get negative emotions associated with that. But what if we flip that, and we thought, “Actually, if we didn’t get negative emotions, there would be something wrong.” Instead of feeling, I’m getting negative emotions, this is awful.

It indicates that people are used to getting an absolutely fantastic service, that the healthcare system in the UK is actually brilliant in terms of people being able to access it for free, and generally get their needs met when they need to be met. So when people get upset, when people start to have a go, it’s uncomfortable, but if it didn’t hurt, there’d be something wrong. If they weren’t complaining, in fact, that would show that actually, they had very low expectations.

But just because you feel uncomfortable emotions does not mean you need to change what you’re doing. So the question then becomes, “Well, how do we then tell what we need to do differently when we need to act on those emotions? When we can just acknowledge it and say, “Well, if it didn’t hurt, there’d be something wrong?” Or when we just need to ignore and say, “Actually, there is nothing wrong?” Well, firstly, just become really granular about what you were experiencing.

Most people can say they’re happy, sad, angry, or scared, those four big emotions. But if you try to sort of name those emotions underneath, what are you feeling? Are you feeling disappointed? Are you feeling upset? Are you feeling let down? All those sorts of things that can help you tell if there really is a problem that you need to do something about? The next question to ask is, what does it matter? What are the consequences of this?

So if you’ve done something, and you’ve said no to something which could cause significant patient harm, then you will need to go and change that. You’ll need to go and put that right. But if it’s just something that has caused someone to be a bit disgruntled, then actually, you don’t need to change that at all. Sidenote, nobody likes to be told no, even if it’s completely reasonable, okay? Even if a friend says to me, “No, I can’t do that.”

I always feel, “Oh, why can’t you do that? Have you got something better to do?” So it’s a normal reaction for people to be a little bit put out when you say no to them. Remember, if it didn’t hurt, there’d be something wrong; does not mean you need to change what you’re doing. Figuring out, does it really matter in the grand scheme of things? Is anyone going to come to significant harm? Is it going to dangerously impact my family and my career, somebody else? Most of the time, the answer is no.

The next question to ask is, “Am I in control of this? Do you have control of the situation?” Because you do not have control over what other people think, what they say, what they do, how they react. The only thing you have control of is what you think, or say, or do and how you respond to the situation. You can only do what you can do and you can’t stop them getting cross, feeling bad.

Okay. Finally, if you’re still struggling with knowing if this warning bell is something you need to respond to, something you need to ignore, or something you need to just sit with, then ask a neutral observer. Ask a trusted colleague, ask a trusted friend,”What do you think of this situation? Should I be acting on it? Should I be doing anything different?” What would a neutral observer say?

I just like to challenge you. Next time you feel some emotions that are uncomfortable, you’re feeling guilty about something, you’re feeling anxious or worried about something, ask yourself those four questions.

What am I really feeling? Name that emotion. Secondly, what does it matter? Does it have severe consequences, severe enough that I need to change what I’m doing? Thirdly, am I in control of this, anyway? There are some things that, yes, they matter, but no, you can’t do anything about it, unfortunately. Finally, what would a neutral observer say? What would a trusted colleague say about that?

You need to embrace the guilt of maybe upsetting people, of maybe being wrong a few times, okay? Just use that mantra. If it didn’t hurt, there would be something wrong. If you are struggling to sit with those difficult emotions, then I recommend a really good book by Ross Harris called The Happiness Trap.

It talks about your thinking and how you can either choose to fuse with some of those emotions or how you can choose to let those go. It’s not a good idea to really suppress some of the emotions such as anger or sadness, you need to learn how to let them out in a healthy way, so you may need to get some extra help with that. But I hope this has just challenged the idea that all our emotions are facts, and they need acting on, so try asking those four questions this week.

Talk it through with some colleagues. Have a little consortium that you know you can go and ask advice from. I’d love to know your thoughts and your comments so email me at hello@yourenotafrog.com and I’ll see you for the next episode.