Befriending our Emotions

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.

-Jon Kabat-Zinn

Take a moment and recall the last time you felt a strong emotion. What do you remember? What did your body feel like? What thoughts came to mind? What did you feel like doing? What did you do? Pause and close your eyes for a few moments to reflect on these questions.   

It is common to try and get rid of our feelings, particularly when we experience strong emotions of sadness, anger or fear. However, trying to get rid of emotions can actually make them more distressing and difficult to manage. Befriending our emotions through mindfulness as well as skills aimed at fostering emotional intelligence (i.e., recognizing, labeling and expressing emotions) are both helpful practices for engaging more effectively in our emotional lives. 

Emotions are important. Foremost, emotions communicate important information to us and to others. For example, anger may tell us we have been mistreated or sadness may tell us we have lost something important or need support. Emotions also assist us in organizing our experiences and actions. Again, fear may organize us to confront a wrongdoer or sadness may allow us to withdraw from busy activities so that we can have space to grieve. Experiencing painful emotions can also help us empathize with others and sharing vulnerabilities fosters closer relationships. Emotions also provide color to our lives as we experience moments of joy or feel proud of our accomplishments. In either case, both “positive” and “negative” emotions are important. Understanding and engaging with our emotional life is ultimately a significant strength.


Mindfulness is a helpful way for us to practice befriending our emotions. Just as we practice being mindful of our breath or the sights and sounds in our environment, we can also practice being mindful of our emotions. 

We can practice being more mindful of our emotions as we experience them or by taking note of our emotions and practicing being present and connecting with our emotional experiences at a later time. We can also practice monitoring when we become self-critical. In both cases, the increased awareness and self-compassion that accompanies mindfulness practice will be useful for better understanding what our emotions are telling us and responding to our emotions in ways that are more intentional.

Practicing mindfulness of emotions is often challenging as judgement or criticism is likely to arise or we might struggle to remain present with intense or upsetting emotions. It is helpful to remember that the most important part of this practice is simply turning toward and becoming more aware of your emotions.

Emotional Intelligence 

As we become more aware or mindful of our emotions, we can use the five RULER skills developed by Dr. Marc Brackett, Ph.D., to regularly check-in with our emotions throughout the day, label our emotions, and express how we are feeling:

Recognize: How am I feeling? Cues from our bodies (posture, energy level, breathing, and heart rate) can help us identify feelings. 

Understand: What happened that led me to feel this way? As feelings change throughout the day, think about the possible causes of these feelings. Identifying the things (people, thoughts, and events) that lead to uncomfortable feelings can help us both manage and anticipate them in order to prepare an effective response. 

Label: What word best describes how I am feeling? Although there are more than 2,000 emotion words in the English language, most of us use a very limited number of words to describe how we are feeling. The primary or basic emotions include sadness, happiness, fear, anger, surprise, disgust. However, there many words we can use to label our emotions. A brief internet search will provide more options and you might consider printing a list to practice labeling.

Express: How can I express appropriately what I am feeling for this time and place? There are many ways to express each of our feelings. For example, many descriptions for sad, such as lonely, heartbroken, disappointed, hopeless, unhappy, troubled, or miserable.  

Regulate: What can I do to maintain my feeling (if I want to continue feeling this way) or shift my feeling (if I do not want to continue feeling this way)? Having short-term strategies (taking deep breaths or stepping back to allow distance) to manage emotions in the moment as well as long-term strategies (reframing negative experiences or seeking social support) to manage emotions over time is an important part of emotion regulation. 

Emotions are not a sign of weakness. They are not here to hurt us, nor are they the cause of our hurt. It is our reactions to our emotions through self-criticism and blame, or our harmful behaviors toward ourselves or others, that causes pain and suffering. If we are able to befriend our emotions and welcome them with compassion into our lives, we might find ourselves situated at a place of greater insight and freedom as we greet each new friend with a receptive heart.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

PSYPACT Authority to Practice Interjurisdictional Telepsychology (APIT) Map of Participating States

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Existentialism in Daily Life

Existentialism suggests that we have both the freedom and responsibility to make our own choices by looking within ourselves. Accordingly, we are tasked with finding meaning, determining our values, and making decisions that shape our lives. Existential psychotherapy builds on these views by approaching therapy with an emphasis on self-determination and our individual search for meaning. It also understands anxiety as part of the human condition as we struggle with common concerns around the nature of our existence and the purpose of our lives.  

It is possible to incorporate existentialism into your daily life by living with greater self-awareness and making choices that align with your values.  

Tips for existentialism in daily life:

Reaffirming your values – Take time to think about your values. You might write these down or start a list that you can update as you consider what is most important to you.  

Meaning and purpose – Pause and reflect on your purpose and meaning at work or at home. Remind yourself of the bigger picture.    

Practice radical acceptance – Accept things the way they are without resistance. Instead of fighting reality, practice accepting reality by letting go.

Practice shifting to gratitude – When you feel stressed or overwhelmed, practice focusing on what you are grateful for in your life. Connect with a sense of gratitude for basic things such as food, shelter, and health as well as a sense of gratitude for your friends and loved ones. 

Practice reframing challenges as opportunities to live into your values – Reframing challenges as opportunities to practice values such as kindness or integrity can build resilience, while also creating more space for meaning and authenticity as you navigate daily life.  

Talk openly about your deeper questions with friends and loved ones – It is probably not typical to ask questions about life and death or the purpose of life, but it might surprise you to learn how often others think about these “big questions.”  Sharing these concerns can lead to deeper understanding and connection within your relationships.   

Start a journal around themes of meaning, values, and gratitude – Journaling is almost always helpful for increasing self-awareness and providing space to reflect. Consider taking time to write down your thoughts or simply practice writing down things you are grateful to have in your life.  

Meditate on impermanence – It is easy to get lost in the challenges and tasks of daily life. Taking time to realize that everything around you is always changing and our lives are limited can allow for us to more fully connect with the present and more fully appreciate life. Each moment is fleeting and each moment you have with a loved one is irreplaceable.  

Connect with new people each day and recognize the common humanity you share – We often make observations, assumptions, and judgement about others. Try shifting your attention to the common humanity you share with all people. When you encounter a person in public, remind yourself that they may also struggle with similar questions or have similar concerns. They may even be in great pain and emotional turmoil. In either case, the “big questions” apply to us all and suffering is an unavoidable part of life.  

Practice mindfulness – Practice everyday mindfulness by connecting with the present moment throughout the day. Allow yourself to step outside of “human-doing” mode and into “human-being” mode. Review my past blog for more ways of practicing everyday mindfulness.  

Through existential therapy and existentialism in daily living, we can become more attuned to our inner lives and live with greater intention. As we become more conscious of our values, we can choose to do things that provide us with a greater sense of purpose and allow for us to live our lives more authentically.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Living with Ease

Ease is defined as the absence of difficulty or effort. To ease is also defined as to make something less serious or severe, soften, and to move carefully and gradually.  

Living with ease is different from being relaxed. Specifically, relaxation has more to do with lessening our feelings of tension and reducing stress. Ease has more to do with an inner sense of peace and harmony. 

Living with ease starts by loosening our grip on the roots of our suffering. It involves letting go of rigid views and opinions of how life should or should not be unfolding. Likewise, it can also involve letting go of impulsive behaviors that continue to repeat and unhelpful patterns of thought and behavior that arise as we struggle to maintain or impose our expectations on the world around us.  

In Buddhism, living with ease is seen in the concept of viraga, which has been translated as “detachment.” In this sense, detachment refers to a distancing from cravings and desires, which is understood as a path to greater freedom and ease. It is also a detachment from thoughts as the driving force behind our experience and interpretation of the world around us.  

We can see similar concepts in modern western psychology. For example, approaches such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) refer to a similar process using terms such as participant observationde-centering, and cognitive diffusion, all of which involve efforts to change awareness and reactions to thoughts and interpretations with the goal of more adaptive reactions.    

Stepping outside of our experiences to observe or detaching from the impact of thoughts, opinions, expectations, and cravings can lead to reduced distress or greater ease.  

What does “living with ease” mean to you?  

Notice the small moments of ease that appear throughout your day. What do you notice from focusing on ease in your life? What steps can you take to get there more often? If you have an idea of how ease develops in your life, practice bringing more ease into your life in the coming days and weeks.  

Practices for living with ease

Meet all of your feelings with balance and curiosity.

Let go of winning and losing.

Connect with the feeling of joy in your heart, even amongst the chaos.

Practice mindfulness throughout your day.

Monitor the nature of your thoughts. 

Reflect upon impermanence. 

Make time for leisure and enjoyment. 

Practice self-compassion rather than self-criticism.

Practice gratitude.

Let go of judgements and practice compassion towards others. 

Be flexible with your expectations. 

Appropriately assert boundaries and politely say no when it is appropriate. 

Pay attention to your body.

Be aware of early warning signs of stress and act in advance to take care of yourself.

Over the next few days and weeks, when worry or stress begins to arise in your life, just notice. Noticing is powerful and can start to shift the pattern of stress and welcome more ease into your life. Notice times when you feel strongly attached to an idea or outcome as well as times when you feel driven or compelled toward certain goals or behaviors. Pause and practice being curious about the ways your attachments to outcomes and ideas impact your stress and consider loosening the grip to make more room for ease in your life.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Mindfulness Myths

Mindfulness is everywhere! We see references to mindfulness in all types of magazines and books, television, and even in the names of businesses. To be sure, mindfulness can be extremely helpful and research regarding the positive role of mindfulness for improving wellbeing is impressive. Nevertheless, mindfulness is not always well understood and a number of myths about mindfulness have come to my attention.  

Mindfulness is meditation. Mindfulness is best defined as a process of focusing awareness in the present moment without judgement. In contrast, meditation is a practice of sustained awareness or attention on a specific experience, most commonly the breath. We can be mindful at any point by bringing awareness to the present moment, even for a brief period. This shifts into meditation when we practice sustained attention over a longer period of time, thereby exercising our attentional capacity. This is helpful to keep in mind as we can practice being more mindful without necessarily practicing meditation, although meditation is highly recommended for cultivating mindfulness. 

Mindfulness is relaxing. Although mindfulness can reduce stress and lead to states of relaxation, mindfulness is actually an active and intentional process of focusing on the present with non-judgement awareness. Therefore, it should not be substituted for rest or sleep. 

Mindfulness is having no thoughts. This is actually not possible. Just as we cannot stop our heart from beating, we cannot stop our brains from thinking. Moreover, having no thoughts has never been a goal of mindfulness. The goal of mindfulness is to become aware of whatever thoughts come to mind, maintain awareness of these thoughts without judgement, and allow the thoughts to pass, rather than dwelling or becoming fixated in our awareness. 

Being mindful all the time is the ultimate goal. This is both impossible and undesirable. If we maintained such a high level of awareness at all times, we would become overwhelmed. The goal is simply to become more mindful, more often, and check-in with our thoughts and experiences as a way to connect with the present moment.

Mindfulness is joy or bliss. Although we can approach an experience of joy or bliss with mindfulness, achieving these states is not the goal. Mindfulness also involves being aware of negative or neutral experiences and does not apply exclusively to positive states. Nevertheless, we can work to be more mindful of our positive emotional states and experiences, which can have a positive impact on our well-being and sense of satisfaction.

Overall, it is helpful to keep in mind that mindfulness or being mindful involves the intentional act of bringing our awareness to the present moment without passing judgement. It is like standing behind a rushing waterfall as you become aware of the water rushing down in front of you. You may notice changes in the water or small objects falling, but you simply observe. The same metaphor can be applied to mindfulness. In mindfulness, we allow ourselves to observe our thoughts without judgement as we watch them pass. In this way, mindfulness can be a great help by allowing us to step outside of the waterfall of our thoughts and the stress of daily life and observe our experiences without judgement.    

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Receptive Awareness

Attention is of central importance for navigating a chaotic world. It is also of central importance for practicing meditation and mindfulness. In meditation, paying attention to the breath is often taught as a starting point as beginners are encouraged to bring their attention back to the breath each time their mind wanders. Over and over again, attention is directed back to a focal point in what is termed concentrated awareness

In addition to meditation, mindfulness has been defined as purposely bringing one’s attention to the present moment or as a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment. Although acceptance and nonjudgement are also important aspects of mindfulness, the role of concentrated awareness is often primary.  

Directing of our attention through concentrated awareness is clearly important for meditation and mindfulness. It is also essential for a self-regulation more generally. However, there is another type of attention or awareness that often gets overlooked.  

Receptive attention or receptive awareness, in contrast, is much less about directing our attention and more about opening space and welcoming experience. It is about following the flow of our experience and simply remaining aware of what is happening. Rather than constantly telling ourselves to concentrate on the present moment, or direct our attention to the present, we are encouraged to develop a state of receptivity to the present moment.

Resting in receptive awareness is also an antidote to the challenges of our inner critic and our negative thoughts patterns or cognitive distortions. When we practice receptive awareness, there is less space for judgement and more space for acceptance. The attachment or identification we often experience with our thoughts and feelings becomes less pronounced and we can begin to connect with a sense of existence outside of these identifications; a resting consciousness where we can experience of ourselves simply as a human being.  

Ultimately, both concentrative awareness and receptive awareness are important for meditation and mindfulness. It is often helpful to begin with concentrative awareness and allow yourself to shift into a state of receptive awareness once you experience a sense of being grounded in the present moment.  

Begin with concentrative awareness by directing your attention to the present moment:

Focus on the surrounding sights and sounds in your environment.

Focus on the sense of being grounded in your chair with your feet on the floor.

Focus on your breath as you breathe naturally. 

Cultivate receptive awareness by letting go of a central focal point and opening yourself to whatever arises.

Imagine sitting in a small house. Your awareness is the air and space all around you. The air shifts and changes as a breeze blows through an open door or window, circulates around you, and continues back out another window. You rest grounded in the stillness, with no need to take any action, while remaining open to the next breeze.  You are aware and receptive to whatever comes next.  

As you can see, both types of awareness have an important role. However, concentrative awareness often gets all of the attention. Yet, receptive awareness is an important step for expanding your meditation or mindfulness practice and loosening your attachment to passing thoughts, feelings, and expectations.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” – Carl Jung

Self-awareness involves the ability to be conscious of a range of experiences, including our emotions, thoughts, motivations, and behaviors. Our degree of self-awareness and the capacity to engage in self-reflection can have a significant impact on our mental health and relationships as it allows for us to step outside of a reactive approach navigating the world. In addition to self-awareness, the ability to empathize or understand what other people are thinking and feeling allows us to develop a more complex and less judgmental understanding around the actions of others. Taken together, the development of greater self-and-other awareness forms a cornerstone for healthy functioning and psychological growth.  

Understanding ourselves and others is an ongoing process that begins early in life and extends throughout the lifespan. This makes it an excellent area of focus for personal growth. There are numerous ways we can work to improve our self-awareness.  

Accepting feedback

Next time someone gives you feedback or criticism, take a moment to slow down and notice how you react. Do you feel defensive? Do you begin to discredit or criticize that person in your head?  Do you feel hurt or anxious?  

Take a few minutes to calm down. Once you feel grounded again, take time to observe your reactions to this feedback and begin to ask yourself questions. What is it that they are trying to communicate to me? Could some part of this be accurate? Is there something I can learn about myself from this? How can I use this as an opportunity for growth? If they are wrong or treating me unfairly, what is the most useful way of proceeding?

Reflecting on emotions

Think of the last time you became upset or reactive. Perhaps another driver honked at you or cut you off on the highway. Perhaps someone didn’t follow through on plans with you. Perhaps you were criticized or blamed for something at work.  

Once again, take a few minutes to calm down. When you are ready, allow yourself to connect with how you feel and ask yourself why you might be feeling that way. Can you name your feelings? When is the last time you felt this way? Does it feel appropriate to the circumstances? What other situations have caused you to feel this way? What have you typically done? What patterns do you see in the ways you feel or behave? 

Taking Perspective

Think of a time when you had a difficult interaction or felt confused by how others behaved towards you. You might also think of a time when others were in disagreement with you. Take a moment to reflect on what the other person might have been experiencing. What do you think they were thinking and feeling? How might they have viewed or experienced you?  

Encouraging curiosity 

When it comes to self-awareness, encouraging curiosity about yourself is an excellent practice. Practice taking more time to pause in your life and reflect on these questions. You may incorporate journaling about your day and writing down ideas or answers to the questions presented above. You can also practice asking more questions about how others experience you.  

Understanding ourselves and others is an important part of living a healthy and satisfying life. However, it can also be challenging as we face things about ourselves that are not easy to accept. Nevertheless, as we grow in self-awareness, we are likely to experience greater freedom and a stronger sense of agency. Our relationships will likely benefit, and we may find ourselves experiencing less stress and self-doubt. We might also find it easier to see why others behave or react in certain ways and we will be better equipped to handle criticism. Human beings are complex. Taking an active interest in yourself is a lifelong process and will serve you well as you navigate the many ups and downs of life.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Your Deepest Aspiration

Sometimes you hear a voice through the door

calling you, as fish out of water

hear the waves, or a hunting falcon

hears the drum’s Come back. Come back.

This turning toward what you deeply love

saves you.


We are often most able to find peace and calm when we are in touch with what matters to us most or what we might call our deepest aspiration. In turning toward and connecting with our deepest aspiration, we can find refuge and comfort when faced with inevitable suffering.

Pause for a moment and reflect on your deepest aspiration. 

First, become aware of the state of your heart. Notice if there is a sense of peace or anxiety, contentment or dissatisfaction, emptiness or fullness, connection or longing. Acknowledge the most pressing wants and needs in your heart. Perhaps you are wanting to overcome an obstacle at work, wishing your child could feel more confident, wishing you could improve your finances, hoping to obtain a new job or promotion, or wishing to improve a relationship with a family member.   

Next, pause and reflect on the possibility of a deeper longing, beyond your most pressing wishing and desires. Although there is nothing wrong with your most pressing needs and desires, consider if there might be something more. 

Ask yourself, “If I got what I wanted right now, what would it really give me?” Ask yourself, “What does my heart really long for?” and “What most matters in this life?”

Pause and listen.  

What feelings or images come to mind? How do you imagine yourself when you relate to your deepest aspiration? What version of yourself do you see? What actions reflect your deepest aspiration? Perhaps you aspire to be more loving or helpful, or calm and joyful, or patient and kind.

Whatever you discover, bring this image and feeling fully to mind in the present.  Let whatever sense of deep aspiration you found during this reflection become more present and appreciated as you move throughout your day. 

When we are in touch with our deepest aspiration, we feel most at home with who we are, and we are well poised to continue developing in ways that align with our true or most authentic self.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Loving ourselves is a process. Generally, self-love evolves as love might evolve between two people. It requires taking time to cultivate our inner relationships and learn to understand ourselves better. It also requires respect and patience as well as acceptance as we admit mistakes and accept parts of ourselves that are sometimes difficult.

Self-forgiveness is therefore a major component of self-love. It rests upon being able to understand who we were at the time of our past behaviors as well as what needs, hurts, and fears were driving us. Only then can we come to understand ourselves with self-compassion and kindness.

We all make mistakes. Yet, it is important to learn ways of accepting and moving on from our mistakes so that we don’t become overwhelmed by feelings of frustration, anger, and guilt, or stuck in a repetitive loop of rumination and self-hatred.  

Although we typically think of forgiveness as something we grant to others, it is important to consider the positive impact of forgiving ourselves. Self-forgiveness is a helpful process that involves recognizing and acknowledging mistakes, validating our feelings, taking responsibility or corrective action when possible and reasonable, and finally shifting our focus to learning, growth, and acceptance. Self-forgiveness is not intended to be an excuse and should not lead away from taking responsibility or empathizing with anyone harmed as the result of a mistake.  

Research suggests that the practice of self-forgiveness is associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety as well as improved physical health, such as lower blood pressure. Practicing self-forgiveness can also allow for us to cultivate an attitude of forgiveness in our relationships with others and motivation to acknowledge, repair, and rebuild relationships when mistakes happen.

Self-forgiveness is often a significant challenge. For many reasons, a lot of people find it difficult to forgive themselves and may hold beliefs about needing to punish themselves or suffer consequences. Self-criticism and perfectionism can also make it difficult to practice self-forgiveness and we tend to have a lot of practice reinforcing these beliefs and behaviors.  

Indeed, taking responsibility and corrective action is an important part of moving on from a mistake. However, perpetuating our distress in the form of guilt, self-criticism, and self-hate is rarely productive as it most often harms our ability to learn and grow, while also serving to reinforce a negative self-image. 

Connecting with our inherent worth and value is a helpful place to focus when we are shifting to growth and self-acceptance. It is helpful to recognize and separate your mistake from yourself – you are not your mistake. It is important to remind yourself that you are far more than one mistake or even one decision. In this manner we can begin to see how it is possible to separate out a mistake and move away from identifying with the mistake as part of our identity or self-worth. To be sure, people of great integrity and intelligence make mistakes just like everyone else.  

Before moving to self-forgiveness, it can be important to reassess your assignment of blame. If you tend to unfairly blame yourself or take on responsibility for things that are completely out of your control, it might be important to work on understanding why this is the case. Nevertheless, in most cases, self-forgiveness can be a meaningful way to improve your relationship with yourself and others.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Understanding Our Shadow

“There is no light without shadow and no psychic wholeness without imperfection.” 

– Carl Jung

The shadow is a psychological term from Jungian analytical psychology that refers to the things we cannot see in ourselves. The shadow is unconscious and generally viewed as the “dark side” of our personality because it consists of negative characteristics, emotions, and impulses like rage, greed, and selfishness.

Our personal shadow begins to develop in childhood and consists of everything we find unacceptable and deny in ourselves, largely based on the family values and social character that influences what we perceive as good and acceptable or bad and undesirable. The qualities that we perceive as inconsistent with our view of ourselves become relegated to our shadow and are thereby largely unconscious. 

Over time, we build our identity around a shadow as it becomes the other side of our personality coin. If we value being active and efficient, we reject being lazy and repress or relegate any potential sense of ourselves as lazy to our shadow. If we value being kind, calm, and generous, we reject being angry, reactive, or selfish, and so on. 

Jungian analytical psychology views the discovery and integration of our shadow as an essential task on the road to psychological wholeness. Exploring our shadow can lead to greater authenticity, creativity, energy, and higher consciousness. 

However, it not easy to confront our shadow. First, it can be very difficult to see our shadow without the help of others. Second, it can be even more difficult to admit and acknowledge our shadow to ourselves. After all, these are the parts of ourselves that we have psychologically disavowed as not us. Nevertheless, if we can bring these sequestered parts of our personality to light, we will find ourselves less easily triggered and more connected with an authentic sense of self.   

There are several ways we can begin to understand our shadow. Carl Jung famously said, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”  

We can apply this to ourselves as we monitor our reactions to others. Often, what irritates us about others is also a part of ourselves that we have repressed in our shadow. Likewise, it is helpful to notice when we unintentionally make other people feel uncomfortable. When we get feedback from others about how our tone of voice or other behavior impacted them negatively without our knowledge, we can get another glimpse into our shadow. Lastly, we can monitor how we feel when our opinions or beliefs are challenged.  

Generally, any uncommonly strong feelings and reactions can be a door into our shadow. When our shadow remains unconscious and we do not become aware of these unwanted aspects of our personality, we frequently project them onto others. Examples of this are all around us as we navigate the day and witness people gossip or speak poorly about others. For example, “They are so concerned with how they look,” “He never gets to work on time,” or in the things we say, such as, “I can’t stand their hypocritical views.” Often, there is some element of the shadow in what is being projected and put onto others as a means of avoiding it in ourselves or disarming our anxiety about the potential truth of our less desirable characteristics and behaviors. 

We all have a shadow. When we open ourselves to our shadow, we are opening ourselves to our humanity and allowing greater space for self-compassion. We are also allowing ourselves a greater sense of wholeness and the opportunity to gain greater self-awareness. Furthermore, we are less likely to be triggered by the world around us. We are also less likely to engage in projection and therefore less likely to amplify the faults of others as a means of ridding ourselves of our own unwanted qualities.

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Accumulating Positive Emotion

People sometimes have the impression that the primary goal of therapy is to eliminate negative emotions or distress. Although there is often a focus on symptom reduction early in therapy, we generally have much broader goals. Likewise, people sometimes navigate daily life in an effort to minimize discomfort or distress. This is fairly reasonable as we are all motivated to avoid pain. Nevertheless, it can lead us down a path of avoidance and hypervigilance or into a pattern of negative thinking and despair if we are not paying attention.  

In contrast to avoiding or eliminating (not possible) negative emotion, we can focus on accumulating positive emotion. In fact, this can be a useful coping skill to learn for building resilience. In reality, unpleasant things, people, and emotions are inevitable and often out of our control. Yet, if we focus some attention and effort on ways of collecting positive emotional experiences, we are likely to be more resilient in the face of adversity.   

The primary challenge to accumulating positive emotion is the all-to-common focus on avoiding negative emotions. It is even possible to overlook and thereby neglect positive emotions when they do occur. Therefore, the first step to accumulating positive emotions is to notice when you are experiences them. Next, allow yourself time to experience and fully acknowledge your positive emotions. You might consider taking a pause, closing your eyes, or speaking softly to yourself using affirmative statements about your emotions. You might imagine taking the positive emotion and related experience and putting it into a backpack to carry with you throughout the day.  

It is all too common to rush past our positive emotions and experiences as we look to the next negative thing to avoid. In this sense, we are unable to accumulate much beyond a fleeting glimpse of positive emotion. A third helpful tip is to monitor your self-talk or automatic thoughts when you attempt to pause long enough to fully experience a positive emotion. Do you find yourself fighting against it or thinking of yourself as not deserving? Do you question the practice and think it is a waste of time or silly? Do you get stuck thinking about the next negative thing that will come your way? This is nice, but . . . ?

Finally, take time to check-in with yourself throughout the day and mentally take note of the positive experiences you have had as well as the positive emotions you have collected. Sometimes it can be something very small. A hug or smile from a loved one. A phone call or text message. Recalling a pleasant memory. Looking at the picture of a close friend. Exchanging a smile with a stranger. Enjoying a few minutes to sit quietly and drink a cup of coffee.

Pause long enough to recall your positive experiences and emotions as you near the end of your day. Imagine you are looking through your backpack and counting each one. Take a brief inventory and connect with a sense of appreciation for taking the time to practice accumulating positive emotions. Having connected more intentionally with your positive emotions you may find yourself more recharged and satisfied. We can’t rid our lives of negative experience or emotions, but we can certainty feel empowered to appreciate the positives ones.

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist 

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