The happiness industry can lead us to believe that negative emotions are bad. That we must and can be happy all of the time. That feeling negative emotion will attract more bad things into our lives and keep away the good stuff.
I know from experience that believing this in the past did nothing other than increase my negative emotion. I compounded my pain by feeling pain about being in pain!
Recent years have taught me a wonderful lesson – that negative emotions are an important and healthy part of life. Whilst we certainly don’t want to stay in a negative state for longer than necessary, the initial onset of any kind of pain, fear or sadness is important to embrace and understand.
Our brains are very good at telling us to escape from pain
It natural for us to move away from things that feel bad. Originally this behaviour would save us from the sabre tooth tiger that might eat us. However, most of today’s negative emotions are not indicative of any real threat to our lives. But, as this primitive fear mechanism is so ingrained, it can take time to calm the fight, flight or freeze reactions to negative feelings.
However, with practise we see that we can afford to stop and look closely at our pains rather than avoiding them. We can experience and respond to them calmly rather than reacting impulsively. We can investigate them for our own self-awareness and growth.
Every emotion has purpose
No emotion is pointless. The human being is wonderfully designed with absolute precision. When we understand the purpose behind every negative emotion, it stops us from fighting the emotion itself. We might even become grateful for the emotion when we see how it serves us.
Society may teach us that anger is bad, but anger is simply your natural self-protection mechanism. It arises to keep you safe when your mind or body feels threatened, violated or vulnerable in some way.
Society tells us that sadness and tears are weak, but such sadness is healing. Sadness washes over the hurt of damage to natural emotional connections with other people or experiences.
Society tells us that envy is ugly, but envy is simply a sign that there’s something you want but haven’t yet achieved. It nudges you in the direction of what you want to experience.
There is a helpful message behind every emotion.
Respond don’t react
Impulsive reaction to negative emotion may be what makes people frown upon and reject these feelings.
For example, an impulsive reaction to anger can involve fighting with violence and aggression. Our impulse reaction to sadness may be to withdraw and mope, that is to flee or freeze. In experiencing envy people can retort to bitterness and hate, another fight mechanism. None of these are particularly pleasurable to experience or witness. But, they don’t have to happen in the first place if we learn to respond rationally rather than react emotionally.
Responding involves first acknowledging your primitive response to fight, flight or freeze. Then, instead of acting any of those out, simply allow yourself to be still and feel. Fully embrace any emotion that you are experiencing. From this space, you realise that the emotion itself is not harmful to you. No matter how loud you scream or how many tears you cry, you can handle it.
Once you accept the emotions, you can engage your conscious mind to make calm decisions about how to act – if indeed, you need to act at all.
Some of my most angry moments have enabled me to set stronger boundaries with people. My moments of envy direct me back to appreciating how much I too have succeeded in all areas of my life. And my deepest sadness has taught me to be vulnerable at take better care of my own heart.
This is how slowly but surely, I learned the power of negative emotions. When we do this, our grief becomes our gift, our fear becomes our friend and our pain becomes our pearl of wisdom.
“Sometimes when you’re in a dark place you think you’ve been buried, but you’ve actually been planted.”
About the author: To find out more about Pinky Jangra, click here.
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