Human Emotions are O.K.

Distress Intolerance

Distress is emotional discomfort. Distress Intolerance is the term for a person’s inability to fully experience uncomfortable emotions. It makes a person desperate to escape or avoid these uncomfortable emotions such as sadness, anger or fear. Simply put, distress intolerance is when people believe that they cannot handle uncomfortable emotions and feel a strong urge within to numb or escape these emotions.

Signs of Distress Intolerant Thinking

If you take desperate measures to get away from uncomfortable emotions, that is a clear sign of distress intolerance. Some desperate measures people take might include:

Numbing: This is when a person indulges in alcohol or substances to get away from emotional discomfort. Other unhelpful methods of numbing include binge eating, oversleeping, etc.

Avoidance: This involves avoiding a situation when there is even a slight hint of distressing emotions. This includes things like avoiding an activity because you’re anxious, putting off doing something you really need to because you’re frustrated etc.

Harmful Releases: Instead of letting the uncomfortable emotion run its course, people engage in behaviors such as kicking, biting, cutting or other destructive activities. It causes physical harm to yourself or others while also worsening the emotion that is left unhandled.

Suppression: This involves telling yourself to stop and trying to push away the distress. The problem with this method is that it’s hard to keep for a long time. It’ll eventually become really tiresome and come crashing down.

Why Is Distress Intolerance Bad ?

As humans, negative emotions such as sadness, anger, or fear are unavoidable. Trying to escape or avoid them is harmful for many reasons.

1. A negative emotion is like a snowball, they get bigger and bigger without proper coping.

2. By continually relying on these escape strategies, you cannot learn more effective ways to cope with emotional distress.

3. You might believe that you need to run from emotional distress because you can’t handle it but you’ll never know how much you can tolerate unless you try to do it.

Distress Intolerant Beliefs

These are beliefs people have acquired through their lives which tend to center around the notion that negative emotions are bad and will lead to really bad, unbearable and unacceptable consequences. The result is that these beliefs turn negative emotions into highly distressing events. Here are some examples of distress intolerant beliefs:

1. It’s unbearable

2. I can’t stand this

3. I hate this feeling

4. I must stop this feeling

5. I must get rid of it

6. Take it away

7. This feeling will keep going on forever

8. It is wrong to feel this way

9. It’s weak

10. It’s stupid and unacceptable

11. I can’t cope with this feeling

The first step in solving a problem is understanding it. So, let’s take this exercise to understand how we deal with negative emotions:

1. For some people, distress intolerance might be broad – that is they might be distressed by any negative emotion even small things and for others it might be limited to severe negative emotions. To understand where you are on this spectrum, ask yourself what kind of negative emotions you find difficult to deal with. How severe do they have to be to cause distress?

2. Do you experience any of the distress intolerant beliefs described here (or its close cousins)? If so, which are the ones relevant to you?

Now ask yourself these questions:

• What does it mean to me when I experience uncomfortable emotions?

• What will happen if I let myself go through these uncomfortable emotions?

• What should I do when I experience these emotions?

3. What do I typically do when I experience uncomfortable emotions?

The important thing is to recognize your intolerant beliefs and escape methods you use. We can take it one step at a time. Stay tuned to see how to handle uncomfortable emotions.

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