Negative emotions get a bad rap, don’t they?
Especially in the world of personal development and
We are taught that our thinking creates our reality and that we must learn to think more positively in order to experience more happiness.
As a coach who’s work is underpinned by a cognitive, thought-based coaching model, I wholeheartedly agree with this philosophy.
Learning to pay attention and become aware of our default thinking patterns and underlying belief systems is huge.
Truly understanding that our thoughts are choices is quite simply life-changing.
And yet it’s not the whole story.
How our Negative Emotions Benefit us
It’s completely unrealistic to expect that we can train our brains so that we never have to experience negative emotions ever again.
Firstly, we are human beings.
We are supposed to experience the full gambit of human emotions – all of them.
If somebody close to us dies, of course we want to feel sad. It’s a natural response.
That’s how we’ve been designed.
And emotions such as fear can literally save our lives when we’re in danger!
Secondly, experiencing only positive emotions would give us a very one-sided perspective of life, with nothing to compare it to.
How could we possibly know what deep joy feels like if we haven’t felt deep sadness?
How can we truly experience sheer delight if we haven’t fully felt and embodied the lows of despair and disappointment?
It’s this contrast that allow us to appreciate the depth and range of the full spectrum of our human emotions. It’s essential.
And it’s what gives us our humanity.
But our negative emotions have another equally important role to play.
They serve as an internal warning system. They are our body’s way of alerting us that we are out of alignment somewhere.
Negative emotions can be a sign that we’re currently believing thoughts that aren’ true or aren’t helpful.
They can also be a sign that we need to make a change in our lives. For example, if we’re feeling anger, it may be because one of our boundaries has been crossed and we need to tighten it.
Our emotions can help us identify and work through our, often unconscious thoughts and belief systems. That’s because all emotions are caused by our thinking, not, as we so often believe, by external circumstances, such as other people and their behaviour.
So, once we understand this, isn’t the answer to simply identify the rogue thought, discard it and immediately replace it with a positive one?
That would seem to make sense, but again, it isn’t the whole story..
If we were to immediately throw out the faulty thought and attempt to replace it, three things would happen:
- The new, positive thought would not ‘stick’ permanently because we haven’t given our body the opportunity to ‘feel’ the effect of our original thought, process it and allow the emotion to pass through our system.
- The negative thought (and feeling) would return – because what we resist, persists. And thus, our suffering would be extended.
- Our negative emotion may be warning us that we need to make a change of some kind in our lives. And we would miss that opportunity if we simply changed our thought.
So, our internal warning system, aka our negative emotions, is actually very good news.
Because when we pay attention to what each emotion has to teach us, it is the fastest path to ending our suffering. And to bringing our mind and body back into alignment – and into our natural state of being.
Here are 6 Steps to Help you Effectively Process and Learn from your Negative Emotions:
- Identify the Emotion you are Feeling and Name It
Research proves that simply labelling our emotions, eg ‘I’m feeling angry, sad, pissed off, etc.’ is very helpful. It takes us out of the primitive ‘fight or flight’ part of our brain and into the ‘thinking’ part, and immediately calms us down and takes the heat out of the emotion.It forces our brain to switch from creating the emotion to observing it.
- Allow Yourself to Fully Feel the Emotion
Once you have named the emotion, give yourself permission to feel it. Really tune into it and give it your full focus. Close your eyes and notice where you feel the emotion in your body; ask yourself if it has a colour or a texture – fully connect with it.Imagine turning up the intensity of the feeling. Lean into it fully, and avoid any temptation to resist or push it away.Understand that every emotion is simply a vibration in your body; it may not be pleasant but it can’t harm you if you just allow it to be there. Any emotion will pass through our bodies in around 90 seconds if we don’t resist it.
- Identify the Thought that Caused the Feeling
Bring awareness to what was going through your mind right before the negative emotion was triggered.If you were having an argument with your husband, what meaning did you give to the words he said to you?For example: ‘He doesn’t respect me; he’s so selfish; if he really loved me he wouldn’t do/say that?’Very often, there’s a painful core belief underlying the thought, such as: I’m not loveable, I’m not good enough, there’s something wrong with me.
In this example, it is core – FALSE – belief that is the root cause of the emotional pain.
Our negative emotions provide the opportunity for us to identify and question the false thoughts we are currently believing about ourselves.
This is one of the lessons our negative emotions can teach us.
- Understand what is Happening
Once you’ve identified the false thought or belief, sit with the knowledge that it is this thought causing your negative emotion, not anything the other person said or did.Really sit with this until you get it – it’s life-changing!Don’t try to change the thought yet. Just understand that it is the source of your negative emotion (and actually that’s very good news.)
- When you’re Ready, DECIDE if you want to Keep Thinking and Believing this Thought
Don’t rush to this step, you may want and need to hold on to the negative thought for several hours or even days – you will know when you are ready to examine it and put it under the spotlight.Note that the key word here is ‘decide’. You have a choice.You can choose to let the negative thought go – or not.You get to decide if you want to keep suffering the emotional pain caused by your thinking.
You get to decide if this thought or belief is in alignment with who you really are (spoiler alert: if it’s causing you pain – it’s not!)
- Choose to Let the Painful Thought Go
Assuming you want to feel better, consciously choose to let the thought go.If it feels right, choose a new, better-feeling thought to replace the original one. It doesn’t need to be the extreme opposite, perhaps just a neutral thought.Sometimes simply going through the above steps and letting the original thought go is enough, and no replacement thought is necessary.
What do you think? Are you willing to feel your negative emotions and understand and apply the lessons from them? Can you see how doing so will move you closer to the version of you who is capable of creating the life and marriage you crave?
If you have thoughts or questions about this topic, please share them in the comment below, or feel free to email me privately.