Most of us have a somewhat adverse reaction to negative emotions. Who loves to feel sad, mad or scared? We like to gravitate towards positivity and cheer...the rainbow and sunshine of emotions. When we are upset, we may hear, “Look on the bright side.” When scared, some of us just try to “get over it.” Mostly, we avoid focusing on anything negative.
However, what if we saw negative emotions as neither good nor bad? What if these feelings of sadness, anger, and fear are simply part of life and the human experience?
What if we could step back to see the actual power and value of these emotions? If we simply provided space to allow the feelings when life is difficult, challenging, and the knowing that those moments can all lead to uncomfortable or negative emotions.
With that said, here is why these negative emotions aren’t so negative after all, and here is how to embrace them to live a more fulfilled life.
What Are Negative Emotions?
Negative emotions are any emotions that cause you to feel bad inside in any way. Anger, fear, sadness, despair, frustration, guilt, shame, disgust, disappointment…It is normal that we all feel these emotions. Whether you acknowledge them or not, they are there.
So then if they are normal, why do we call them negative?
Historically, in the 1970’s, psychologist Paul Eckman who is known for his research on facial expressions identified six basic emotions: happiness, sadness, disgust, fear, surprise, and anger. Four out of six of these fall into the ‘negative’ category.
Then, in 1980, psychologist Robert Plutchik identified eight basic emotions: joy, sadness, trust, disgust, fear, anger, anticipation, and surprise, half coined now as “negative.”
Dr. Plutchik expanded his findings through the wheel of emotions (below) to illustrate the spectrum, degrees, and relationships among these emotions.
Photo Source: https://en.wikiversity.org/
The thing is, these emotions are called negative because they make us feel bad. However, these feelings are actually not bad for us for a number of reasons.
- They’re Normal.
In a world where we are encouraged to be present, grateful and happy, perhaps we are doing ourselves a disservice by not talking about the fact that negative emotions are a natural and unavoidable part of life.
- They Serve a Purpose.
It’s true, it can be a stigma that these emotions are regarded as wasted energy rather than to feel through it.
Buddhist teacher Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche says:
“What are the experiences that the teachings of the Buddha are founded on? They are sadness, love, and openness. Although they appear to be quite different, sadness and openness are in fact intimately connected. The profound sadness that overwhelms us when we understand the impermanent nature of all phenomena opens us up to the world around us. We open our hearts and begin to notice our fellow beings. We see how we all must face the hardships of life; we understand the fleeting nature of our joys; and we become aware of how much worry, pain, and suffering we all go through in our lives. In this way, we realize that we all share similar painful experiences.”
The purpose then becomes larger and allows us to understand the openness within us when we just feel.
- They can prompt us to grow and love.
Surely, without every single emotion, we would not be where we are as a species. All these emotions are things we need to feel attuned to help us survive and grow. While they may feel negative, they all have an underlying, positive intention, a reason for being. When we seek this reason, when we find the connection and overall understanding that we can share, love and feel loved through any emotion, we can elevate ourselves and others.
We can be better partners, better friends, better parents, better people.
- They’re a Warning Signal.
They identify something that’s going on causing us to feel out of alignment with our true self, where we feel peaceful, calm and connected.
They are telling us, “Hey, listen up, somethings not right here, you’re going off track”.
It can even be a spectrum of warning signals.
Mild emotions: frustration or annoyance trigger something that is not okay for you.
If you don’t listen then the bigger emotions, the anger, resentment or fear come in.
And then if you let those brew longer, that is when it gets out of control – rage, anxiety and even depression.
Some negative emotions are about feeling out of alignment with your actions...like shame or guilt. In this case, it is about allowing the feeling to find the integrity or way back with inner reflection.
- They Inspire Action.
They are a catalyst for change and movement. What happens when you get really mad? You take action or feel motivated.
Anger has been used throughout history as a positive catalyst for change. Many great leaders have harnessed their anger to stand up for what they believed in.
“The supreme task is to organize and unite people so that their anger becomes a transforming force.” -Martin Luther King Jr.
In Ayurveda, negative emotions can be seen as fire in your belly and an aggravated pitta which can accumulate in the channel of the mind to cause accumulating heat, and can lead to anger, irritability, and other fiery emotions like envy, criticism, and excessive ambition. When one balances pitta, this “fire” can turn to will power, courage, confidence, contentment, satisfaction, enthusiasm, cooperation, acceptance, and surrender.
- They Provide Release.
When we conceal or try to hide or ignore emotions, they don’t just go away. They go deep inside of us and can eat at us. They can even cause ulcers, back pain or sickness.
Dr. Loiuse Hay in her famous book, Heal Your Body, speaks of the different manifestations of disease that feelings like anger and frustration can become.
She also shares how to feel these feelings but not have them become you.
If you need to cry, do it. It is your body’s way of getting rid of the toxins so the emotion won’t manifest itself anywhere if you hold it in.
In Japan, they even have crying rooms you can book which serve to help participants ease stress levels and release their emotions.
In the end, by allowing yourself to feel everything, you learn how to cope and you continue to add these coping strategies to your inner toolbox. You learn what works and what doesn’t work. You can try meditation, journaling, or even talking to a therapist or someone who can create a safe space to experience your emotions. But you can’t find those strategies if you don’t simply feel it first so take that first step and allow yourself to FEEL IT ALL, the good, the bad and the ugly.
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