How Wallowing in Your Emotions Can Help You Heal

My first memory of learning about “wallowing” was while watching season one episode seventeen of Gilmore Girls, where Rory and her boyfriend Dean call it quits. 

For those who haven’t seen this iconic episode, the TLDW synopsis is that after Rory and her Dean break up, she expends all of her energy trying to convince everyone she’s fine. 

Her mom, Lorelei, tries to convince her to wallow in her feelings, eat ice cream, and watch her favorite comfort shows, but Rory resists. At the end of the episode, Rory succumbs to her heart’s desire to wallow and realizes it’s just what she needed to begin her healing process.

For a long time, I didn’t understand why Rory didn’t want to wallow. As a spry 11-year-old, I couldn’t think of anything better than eating a tub of ice cream and watching my top 10 favorite romantic comedies. 

Eventually, I got older and had my own first heartbreak. I realized that I, like Rory, didn’t want to admit something bad had happened — and wallowing would’ve been my admittance. 

I wanted to pretend I was a “cool girl” and was unaffected by no longer being in a relationship. I held onto my stoic mindset until a month later. I was driving home when Adele’s “Someone Like You” began playing and the stone wall guarding my heart crumbled. Again, like Rory, that’s when my healing began.

Keep reading to learn more about what wallowing is, the benefits of wallowing in your emotions, and how to do it effectively.

person wallowing in their emotions

What is wallowing, exactly? 

According to Merriam-Webster, to wallow is to “indulge oneself immoderately in something.” When we do something immoderately, it means we’re choosing to act in excess. 

This definition of wallowing may explain why many people are averse to it. Growing up, I heard time and again that it was best to “do everything in moderation,” so to allow myself to do something immoderately felt forbidden. 

However, I’ve learned not everything is best in moderation and sometimes it’s important to indulge. 

The benefits of wallowing in your emotions

Below are some compelling reasons why giving yourself space to wallow in challenging emotions may be a helpful exercise.

1. You may feel better sooner.

As a therapist, I often find myself encouraging my clients to allow themselves to feel the big, scary feelings like shame, despair, and fear. It’s reasonable to guard ourselves against these emotions since they may make us feel vulnerable. But if we don’t feel them, they’ll continue to exist in our bodies and take hold. 

Not engaging with our emotions is like continuously shaking up a soda can and waiting for it to burst. An explosion is coming, but we don’t know when. By feeling our feelings, we allow them to exit our bodies which leads to feeling better, sooner.

2. Your confidence will improve. 

As I mentioned before, feeling hard feelings can lead us to feel vulnerable. While being vulnerable may feel like a weakness, it’s actually a strength. 

By allowing ourselves to address our feelings, sit with them, and come out the other side, we’re able to show ourselves that we can do hard things. This, in turn, builds confidence.

3. You’ll build closer relationships. 

A key factor in building close relationships is being able to engage in emotional intimacy. This happens when we tell others about the highs and lows of our lives. Reflect on your closest relationships: I imagine these people know details about your life that are challenging. 

You may wonder, what does wallowing have to do with this? Well, we’re not going to be able to share our challenging experiences with others if we can’t first accept them ourselves. Being with your feelings will allow you to share them with other people. This can create deep, healthy, relationships.

How to wallow effectively

As you can see, wallowing can lead to many valuable emotional strengths, but how do we wallow effectively? Counselor Tina Gilbertson talks us through how to do this in her book, Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings By Letting Yourself Have Them. 

Below are some tips from her book on how to wallow in a constructive way:

1. Tell yourself the situation. 

This means observing the experience you’re having by looking at the facts from an objective perspective. To do this, express how you feel about the situation you’re in with non-judgment. It may sound like, “I didn’t get picked for the soccer team and I feel disappointed.”

2. Realize your emotion about the situation. 

Give yourself an opportunity to reflect on what you’re actually feeling. Remember, no matter what your feeling is, it’s okay. If you’re unsure how you feel, I recommend looking at a feelings wheel to see if any emotion is resonating with you.

3. Uncover self-criticism. 

In sessions, I often hear clients saying things like, “I’m such an idiot for being upset about this,” or, “Why do I always let my feelings get the best of me.” Both of these statements are self-critical. When we can find our criticisms, we can change them to be more self-loving and supportive.

4. Try to understand yourself. 

When we have negative feelings, we often evaluate them as “good or bad.” It can be more supportive to understand why we’re having the feeling. You may ask yourself, “Why am I disappointed that I did not make the soccer team?” The answers to these questions can support healing.

5. Have the feeling. 

This will look different for everyone, but it may involve crying, venting, screaming into a pillow, or taking a mental health day. Whatever it is you need to do to safely feel your feeling, do it — because remember, the only way out is through.

The bottom line: Each of us will experience challenging emotions while riding the rollercoaster that is life. Allowing yourself to feel those hard emotions through wallowing may be what gets you to your next peak.

Mental Health Think & Feel

About Sarah Kelly

Sarah Kelly is a licensed social worker and certified alcohol and drug counselor. Sarah received her MSW from Loyola University and Chicago and currently works as an individual and group therapist for Clarity Clinic Chicago with an emphasis in addiction and trauma work. While Sarah believes that therapy is a significant and often necessary tool to foster personal and community wellness, Sarah believes in caring for the whole person and whole community. Sarah works towards this value by engaging in Chicago’s running and yoga communities, tapping into several book clubs and indulging in the bachelor. Sarah hopes to support you in the process in discovering what brings you value in yourself and your community.

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