One of the things many of us do after a failure or a rejection is to distract ourselves from the disappointment, frustration, hurt, or anger we feel by surfing through social media. Mistake! Social media is known to impact our moods for the worse in certain situations, especially when we’re already feeling bad.
When Nava failed the bar exam for lawyers she was devastated. Trying to delay telling her friends and family the bad news she did what she often did to pass the time: She pulled out her phone and surfed through friends’ Facebook and Instagram feeds. She hoped seeing some of the inspirational messages her friends tended to post would cheer her up. But the more time Nava spent looking through her friends’ posts the worse her mood became. And then something happened that happens to many of us: She began to feel bad about the fact that she was feeling bad.
The question is, why did seeing friends’ Facebook and Instagram posts, many of which were inspirational and supportive in nature, make Nava feel worse about her failure? Should they not have made her feel more hopeful and optimistic?
A study recently published by the American Psychology Association looked into the impact our “culture of happiness” has on how we react to failure experiences. The researchers found that the greater emphasis a culture places on happiness, and the greater the societal pressure is to not experience negative emotions, the more poorly and less adaptively we might react to negative emotions when we have them, about failure and in general.
How to Apply these Findings
Treating the emotional wounds of failure creates requires a two-step process. In the first, we should always give ourselves time and space to experience negative emotions when we have them, especially when we’re dealing with a failure experience. This also means we should validate the distressed and negative feelings our friends and loved ones have when they experience failures or rejections. However, since our goal is to bounce back emotionally, we need to limit the time we give ourselves to feel bad so we can pivot to emotional recovery. The idea is to give ourselves (or our loved ones) enough time to acknowledge and validate the negative feelings we have but not enough time to wallow in them or allow them to become fodder for ruminative thoughts.
When our negative feelings are not validated by others, or when, like Nava and the participants in the study, we see around us messages that imply it is wrong or incorrect to have negative feelings, we are likely to experience the double whammy of feeling bad about the failure and then feeling bad about ourselves for feeling bad.
Therefore, we should give ourselves time to feel bad, seek out emotional validation for our distressed feelings (e.g., our disappointment, anger, frustration, sadness) so we do not ‘feel bad about feeling bad’, and then pivot to emotional recovery sooner and more effectively.
Dr Guy Winch, Ph.D will be speaking at the Upgrade Your Life, 2019 event in Sydney. He will be giving two talks on mental and emotional wellbeing; and couples conflict management and how to foster intimacy in a relationship.