We have a cultural tendency to stuff our negative emotions. We apologize for our anger. We talk ourselves out of our disappointment. We have come to believe that positivity is a sign of strength and character, and negativity is a sign of weakness.
While this blog is founded in positive psychology and many of the skills I teach are about finding the positive in negative situations, I want to make one thing clear:
Negative emotions are not “bad,” and experiencing them is not a sign of failure or a character flaw. It simply means you are human.
The fact is, negative emotions are there to serve us, if we let them. They are like a security alarm system that alerts us when we feel threatened in some way. Just as we would not ignore a security alarm, we should not ignore our negative emotions. Every time we do, we are missing an opportunity to take care of ourselves.
Anger is appropriate when someone mistreats us. Sadness is fitting when we have a setback or disappointment. Fear is normal when we are in danger of losing someone or something we care about.
When we stop being ashamed of our negative emotions are start listening to what they have to tell us, we realize they are trying to protect us. Anger is usually telling us we deserve better. Sadness is often reminding us who and what we love. Fear is commonly showing us what we desire.
So, give yourself permission to be negative sometimes. Own it. Wallow in it, if you need to. Then, ask yourself what your emotion is trying to tell you about what you need to feel better. If you remind yourself that your negative emotions are pointing out a perceived threat and giving you an opportunity to protect and take care of yourself, you will be able to use them for good.
Remember though: You can’t think well when you are flooded with emotion, so don’t even try. Give yourself time to settle down and collect yourself a bit. Then, when you are calm enough to think constructively, ask yourself this question:
What is this negative emotion trying to tell me about what I need, deserve, love or desire, and what can I do to take care of myself around it?
Life is not meant to be happy all the time. In fact, if we never experienced the negative emotions, we would not appreciate the positive ones. However, if we learn to use our negative emotions as opportunities to take care of ourselves, we are able to spend more and more time feeling good.