But what writers, researchers, clinicians, teachers, and practitioners won’t tell you.
Is that there are seventeen hidden dangers of practicing mindfulness meditation.
When you’re not being mindful of how you’re treating your negative emotions.
How mindfulness meditation contradicts itself
Mindfulness meditation is supposed to promote mindfulness, or awareness of the present moment. It’s also supposed to promote acceptance of all experience.
However, when you look at what’s actually said and written about the practice, it’s a different story.
Because when it comes to stress, physical pain, emotional pain, discomfort, or any other undesirable sensations.
You’re supposed to get rid of them (or “defuse” them) by:
- “Observing” them
- Avoiding actually experiencing them so you can continue to “observe” them (also known as resistance)
- Telling yourself that they aren’t real
- Telling yourself that they aren’t necessarily accurate
- Telling yourself that they aren’t you
- Detaching from them as a result of telling yourself that they aren’t to be experienced, but rather “observed”
This is supposed to be a “nonjudgmental” process, but what happens most of the time — judgment of negative emotions. Why else would you try to get rid of them through such a technique?
When you really don’t judge a negative emotion, you let it run its natural course — without trying to step in and control the situation through cultivated mental discipline.
The process listed above trains you to dissociate from your unwanted thoughts and emotions. Who’s to say if you should experience “unwanted” thoughts and emotions” as you start to become aware of them? That’s your call. (We do emotion regulation all the time.) But it’s not the issue; it’s the deception.
The mindfulness meditation movement completely ignores its inherent contradiction. At least currently.
All because of lack of true acceptance of the emotional experience. Or fear of the emotional realm, which stems from obsession with artificial evasion of suffering.
The movement claims that mindfulness meditation “allows you to experience the present moment and be open to new experience.”
When it closes you off to certain unwanted experiences.
The common prescription of mindfulness meditation prevents you from being mindful of unwanted thoughts and feelings. (If you just follow them, though, they often work themselves out.)
What’s so bad about mindfulness meditation?
Mindfulness meditation, like any other meditation, is a tool.
How you use that tool matters.
Many use it to avoid having to feel emotional pain.
But of course they won’t tell you that.
The cover story will be something nicer, spiritual even. Like, “I want to be more in touch with my true nature.” “It helps me de-stress.” “It makes me happy.”
Getting in touch with your true nature, de-stressing, and being happy are all possible without suppressing negative emotions. (They’re only possible without suppressing negative emotions, in the long run.)
Of course you’ll temporarily feel better if you don’t have to face your unwanted thoughts and emotions — which are just there to alert you of problems in your environment and/or your thinking. That by the way, only you can fix.
Of course you’ll have fewer worries if you stop thinking about your problems. But you’ll have to meditate again to get that high. Because you are not a monk living apart from modern civilization. You have demands of daily life that leave lots of room for things like interpersonal conflict, communication issues, and having to balance family with work.
The first step you need to take in fixing your problems, long-term, is becoming mindful of them — by paying attention to messengers — the negative emotions.
If you’re not mindful about how you’re using mindfulness meditation to defuse your negative emotions, it can cause you emotional harm in seventeen crucial ways.
17 Ways mindfulness meditation can cause you emotional harm
Mindfulness meditation is about clinging to the story: Emotions aren’t real. Aren’t accurate. Will pass.
When you dissociate from your negative emotions, an integral part of who you are, seventeen of many unintended negative consequences may result:
- You start to judge uncomfortable thoughts and feelings as inferior, unreal, or bad. Which gets in your way of actually learning from them, experiencing and healing them, growing from them, and integrating them.
- You get good at stuffing anger and other negative emotions. Which might make them go away — temporarily. But hasn’t shown to be very effective.
- If and when a traumatic or emotionally painful experience occurs, you don’t fully process it, and cut your grieving process dangerously short.
- You have low tolerance for processing grief. So if you start to remember something traumatic, you stuff it down, potentially re-traumatizing yourself.
- You expect meditation to fix your problems for you, resolve your relationship conflicts, and make you happy. Each of those things requires hard work, commitment, and realistically, some discomfort. When you look to meditation to save you, you stop putting in the hard work and commitment, and evade the discomfort. Which makes it harder to effectively work toward your goals.
- You detach yourself from conflicts in your life, expecting that meditation will get rid of the negative emotions — and fix the problem altogether. The emotions just signal the problem. Even if you ignore the emotions, the problem is still there.
- You detach from your partner or loved one when they’re upset or experiencing an emotion you see as undesirable. You wish they’d just meditate it away, calm down, take a walk, get a grip — do whatever it takes to get rid of the emotion. When you invalidate your partner’s negative emotions, you cause serious wounds to both of you, harming trust and intimacy.
- You find it difficult to connect to your feelings when you want to be emotionally honest with yourself and others. Because you’ve trained yourself to avoid them. This impairs your ability to be emotionally intimate with anyone.
- Your relationships deteriorate, because you lose touch with what interpersonal conflict really means. After all, no one is really experiencing hurt feelings, right? Those feelings aren’t really real; just dissociate from them. Or, “observe” them.
- You struggle to empathize with others, or understand their pain. If you don’t feel your own pain — you can’t expect to have compassion for another’s pain.
- You lose your ability to naturally feel upset, sad, or concerned when there’s an issue in your life that you need to address. This puts a damper on healthy discernment.
- Your ability to feel positive emotions is also affected. Because you don’t allow experience of the negative. The positive cannot exist without the negative. Get rid of the negative, the positive has no meaning.
- Your passion and drive in life start to fade, or shift away from those things that are truly special to you. Which may be a good thing, if you don’t want to cling to such things. But a bad thing if you give up pursuits that once gave you meaning and reward.
- You start to feel dissatisfied with your life, and alone. But because of the nature of mindfulness meditation, you compound the problem by meditating, dissociating, and numbing even more.
- You become fixated, obsessed, attached to abstract, man-made, escapist concepts like enlightenment and transcendence. This distracts you from attending to your actual life, here on Earth, as a mortal human being.
- You subconsciously seek a guru or teacher to show you the way to “better” enlightenment and transcendence. You have no idea how this person deals with their interpersonal relationships, not to mention conflict. You have no idea if this person could manage the mundane responsibilities you struggle to balance in life. Yet you put this person on a pedestal, and potentially take a advice that’s really not suited for your lifestyle.
- You get it in your head that humans are so imperfect. This may come from the spiritual beliefs surrounding the practice, or just hanging around others who practice. (“Perfect” is a human construct by the way.) You then judge your human-ness. And seek to quiet (or kill) your ego, or self concept. Which puts you in ultimate conflict with yourself.
Meditate with mindfulness
Meditation doesn’t have to be harmful to your emotional health.
Mindfulness meditation may not cause you emotional harm.
However, if you’re using it to avoid experiencing your negative emotions, be mindful of that endeavor. And pay attention to any unintended negative consequences that may result.
Mindfulness meditation can help you process physical pain. Mindfulness can help you process emotional pain. And meditation can get you in touch with how you really feel, and how you can respond to your life in constructive ways.
It all depends on how you use the tool.
If you’re brave enough to feel, and be truly mindful of your personal experience, you can:
But you have to feel, all of it, first!
That’s real mindfulness.
This is the 6th article in the series, “Mindful emotion regulation: An integrative review.”
What do you think?
Do you meditate? Does it help you get in touch with your emotions?
What do you feel are potential pitfalls of mindfulness meditation? How about potential merits of mindfulness meditation?
Want to learn more about how to work with your emotions? Sign up for the free e-class, Your Life is Your Construct.