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The Wisdom of the Dark Emotions

The feelings you avoid may hold the key to a fuller, happier life. Follow these seven steps to find their riches.

This article appeared in our December 2004 issue.Grief, fear, and despair are the emotions we humans find most disturbing — and they are the most likely to get us into trouble when we ignore them. That’s the lesson of my 30 years as a psychotherapist. I call them the dark emotions, not because they are negative but because they are painful, and because our culture tends to shame, silence, devalue, and deny them. There is no psychiatric concept of normal despair, for instance. We speak only of clinical depression, an illness that can be reduced to a simple neurotransmitter deficiency. Even grief after a major loss is diagnosed as a mental disorder if it lasts more than two months. Popular models of emotional intelligence hold negative emotions responsible for all manner of misery and mayhem, from drug abuse, failed careers, and bad marriages to mass social violence and crime. Our culture tells us to get past, get over, control, manage, and medicate these unruly,  destructive forces. Indeed, author Daniel Goleman calls the ability' to “squelch the ... movement" of emotions the “master aptitu …

Miriam Greenspan’s pioneering book A New Approach to Women and Therapy (McGraw Hill, 1983) helped define the field of women’s psychology. Her book, Healing through the Dark Emotions: The Wisdom of Grief, Fear, and Despair (Shambhala, 2003), was selected as a Spirituality & Health Best Book of 2003.

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