Gain emotional intelligence by being in the “yuck.”

Defining Your “Yuck”

We all have a stuck “yuck” part. “Yuck” is the average human feeling/emotion or emotional state that holds substantial meaning to us individually and where we have not been able to effectively experience growth and maturity. The “yuck” is a byproduct of our history, our physiology and/or our experiences, it is seen and experienced through a negative lens and we have negative associations attached to them. The “yuck” varies from person to person and could be a basic emotion or emotional state such as: fearenvyanger, frustration, neglect, abandonment, failure, etc.

For example, if as a child you always “needed” to be successful, whether there was retribution from a parent if you faltered or it was self-induced (i.e., shaming, blaming, self-deprecating messages or personal thoughts or feeling), as an adult you may shy away from challenges where you could potentially experience “failure.” To avoid failing and the thoughts and feelings that arise along with “being” a failure, you default to what you are naturally good at or are instructed to do despite whether it fulfills you and meets your needs.

I had a patient who was concerned that he was not relaying all the information that he needed to for me to understand and effectively help him. He described how he felt more comfortable writing his thoughts and feelings rather than verbally expressing them. I asked him whether writing his feelings down, rather than expressing them was helping him with his interpersonal relationships. He quickly responded that although he appreciated having the opportunity to ventilate, he recognized that it was not contributing to him improving his communication skills, and inevitably his interpersonal relationships.

My first instinct was to ask that he bring in and share his writings so that he could feel more comfortable and reassure himself that he was being heard, understood, and getting his needs met by me. I also realized that the place of growth for him was to be in the “yuck” — his verbal expression and the anxiety that was provoked due to his thoughts that he would not be understood and not get his needs met, which would invariably result in him being neglected by the other person. This is the very sentiment he typically feels that keeps him in that place of consistently avoiding relationships.

This is the very part of him that needed to grow and mature developmentally in order for him to put himself out there and take risks and challenges in developing and sustaining his relationships. If he were to continue to use written communication skills and not focus on his verbal expressive skills, and avoid the anxiety and feelings associated with being neglected, he would not be focusing on the place and emotional state that needed the most attention, compassion, and growth.

In addition, there would be an even further disparity between the two modes of communication. He would feel even more ineffective and incompetent at verbalizing his thoughts and feelings, which would further increase his anxiety about not being understood and getting his needs met. A vicious cycle that keeps him feeling stuck and hopeless about his circumstances and his lack of ability to make changes.

The “yuck” may be a challenging place to be in but avoiding those emotions or emotional states over time result in a considerable amount of stagnation, stuckness, and discomfort. Throughout life we are all expected to feel our share of fear, frustration, and disappointment. These feelings are all typical human emotions and emotional states. Think about the amount of growth that can be acquired if you were able to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and grow that underdeveloped part – your “yuck.”

Feeling disappointed or frustrated can be just that, an emotional state, rather than a deep dark dreaded place which you deny, disdain, and avoid. The “yuck” can be reframed as a positive conduit — providing a direct pathway to identifying your core values, letting you know what your foundational needs are, what kind of life you want to be living, and who you want to be about. You could make the shift of seeing your “yuck” through a positive lens, noticing it, generously welcoming it as it approaches, and working toward behavior change to increase your self-belief, self-love, and overall confidence and feelings of self-worth.

To Work Effectively with Your “Yuck” Ask Yourself:

  • To observe what the “yuck” is for you. It is the emotions or emotional states that accompany beliefs about yourself that you make attempts to deny, disdain or rid yourself of. Name it. Own it. For example, when I am frustrated, I become irritable and experience myself as mean and out of control or when I’m fearful or anxious, I avoid things and isolate and experience myself as weak and worse and/or different than everyone else.    
  • Whether it is based on your history, your physiology, and/or experiences? Does it inform the core belief about yourself (I am unlovable, ineffective, and/or hopeless)? For example, you experienced emotional neglect or abandonment as a child, throughout the years you have attempted to put yourself out there in relationships but experience others losing interest in you overtime, etc.
  • How do you think and feel about your “yuck”?
  • How long has it been since you have been disdaining, avoiding and/or rejecting it (put a number on it – e.g., 15 years, etc.)?  
  • What do you imagine would happen if you were in the thick of the “yuck” and allowed yourself to acknowledge it, accept it, and be with it? What’s the best that could happen? What’s the worst that could happen? What’s most likely to happen?
  • If the “yuck” didn’t exist then what would you be doing that you’re currently missing out on?
  • Can you expand and make the shift to be kind, loving and compassionate toward yourself when the “yuck” evokes your uncomfortable thoughts and feelings?
  • Are you willing to think how you think, feel how you feel (not necessary react/act according to the thoughts and feelings) regarding the “yuck” in the service of living life more meaningfully because you are tapping into typical human emotions and emotional states?

I consistently tell my patients, if you don’t want to experience rejection, just give up on ever having or being in a relationship. It comes along with the territory and is a basic human emotion and emotional state that often accompanies being in a relationship. It’s the very emotions that get evoked when we are engaged in a relationship that affords each of us with prime opportunities to express our needs, set boundaries, work through differences, and experience meaningful emotional growth and maturity.

We are always up against whether we want to accept, acknowledge, be compassionate toward, and embrace aspects of our human emotions and emotional states. Since being in the “yuck” directly affords us with insight into our core values, our needs, the life we want to be living and who we want to be about — it really doesn’t seem to be a choice but rather an obvious necessity for living a meaningful life.

Here is a Connecting To Our Body Guided Meditation led by me. Please subscribe to my YouTube channel for more interviews and guided meditations.

Blog as published in Psychology Today.