Negative Emotions | Positive Psychology | Emotional Response | Good Life Tips | Happiness

The Healthy Way Of Dealing With Negative Emotions

How many times have you told yourself you’re not supposed to feel the way you feel? Or you faked a smile to hide away your sadness, pushed yourself to feel good, and ended up feeling even worse?

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In a society that often assumes that we have everything to feel satisfied and happy, and that we’re supposed to do so all the time, negative emotions can easily feel wrong and uncomfortable.

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In this article, we’ll see what research shows about the impact of how we deal with our negative emotions on our overall happiness.

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Feeling bad about feeling bad only makes us feel worse

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No matter how much we may try to avoid them, we all occasionally experience negative emotions such as irritation, guilt, anger, sadness, or shame. But since these emotions are not generally well regarded, we tend to avoid them, hide the fact that we feel them, and force ourselves to feel differently. We might even see this as a strength, to be in control of our emotions, when in fact this behavior can bring us further down.

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A recent study from the University of Berkley, California, showed exactly this: feeling bad about feeling bad only makes us feel worse.

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In this study, people who didn’t beat themselves up for feeling bad had higher scores of well-being than the people who showed avoidance towards negative emotions.

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To understand how this translates to real life, the researchers suggest a metaphor to how one can relate in a more healthy way to negative emotions, comparing them to darker clouds in the sky. Using a healthy approach, one would not judge the greyness of the sky, but instead know that the clouds will eventually pass, while recognising that the sun is shining above them, and it will shine through again.

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Using this kind of metaphoric explanation, when dealing with negative emotions, helps the individual to not engage in cognitive distortion such as generalizing or catastrophizing. In this way, instead of dwelling on these feelings and even perhaps thinking that “I’ll never be happy,” “the sun will never shine again on me,” or “my life is miserable,” one can give less importance to the temporary event.

Dealing with Negative Emotions .PDF

Dealing with negative emotions

This will help you to deal with your negative emotions.

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Feeling right vs. feeling good

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This attitude of acceptance has also demonstrated to be beneficial on another cross-cultural study, conducted by an international team of researchers involving university students from eight countries (China, Germany, United States, Brazil, Poland, Ghana, Singapore, and Israel). In this study, researchers found that people who allowed themselves to feel the emotions that felt right at the time, whether these were pleasant or unpleasant, showed higher signs of psychological well-being than those who didn’t accept their emotions.

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In all cultures, the openness to experience a wide range of emotions, and not just the pleasant ones, was related to greater life satisfaction and fewer symptoms of depression.

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This shows that a healthy psychological approach to emotion is not to avoid the unpleasant and prefer the pleasant, but is to allow the experience of emotions that feel meaningful and adequate.

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The problem of feeling good all the time

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In Western culture, we’re living a moment in time where every day we’re exposed to positive quotes, motivational videos, and people using social media to demonstrate how good they life is and how good they feel about it. This only contributes to the condemnation of negative emotions and to one feeling bad about feeling bad, and wanting to avoid it.

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Not knowing how to respond to negative emotions can have damaging consequences. Addiction is an example of how people start using their drug or behavior of choice to mask negative emotions, aiming to feel good all the time. A cigarette, a glass of wine, or an afternoon out shopping, can do the trick of putting the negative emotions under the rug and give a feeling of satisfaction that is “easier” to feel and, of course, preferred.

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A healthy emotional response

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It is, therefore, necessary to educate on healthy responses and understand how emotions play an essential part in self-guidance and self-understanding. If instead of avoiding negative emotions we could be aware of were they’re originated, we’d be able to use the experience to know more about ourselves and grow as individuals. We’d be more capable of understanding what norm or value have we broken when we feel shame, what area of our life we need to adjust when we feel sadness, or which personal boundary did we see crossed when we experience anger.

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One way to develop a deeper insight as to what our emotions reveal about our life is to, for example, write about them. Rather than engaging in some attempt to feel different as fast as possible, take a moment to sit down and write about 1) how you feel, 2) why you feel the way you feel, 3) what would make you feel better. You may be surprised with how much 10 to 20 minutes of writing can reveal about the emotions you’re experiencing and the situation that created them, or what solutions may be available for you.

Dealing with Negative Emotions .PDF

Dealing with negative emotions

This will help you to deal with your negative emotions.

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Letting it be

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Whether our negative emotions require some action from us or not, disregarding the importance of accepting how we feel, and holding on to the idea that we must feel good all the time, is a poor psychological strategy with the potential for long-term damaging implications. Knowing this should help us to feel better about feeling bad, and accept that to experience a wide range of emotions is not a sign of weakness but a natural consequence of the human condition.

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Just as a grey sky hides the sun but carries in itself what may be a deeply needed rain, so should we be at peace with our unpleasant emotions, and recognize their impermanence and meaningfulness.

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Besides, don’t you love the earthy scent of rain?

References:
The Psychological Health Benefits of Accepting Negative Emotions and Thoughts: Laboratory, Diary, and Longitudinal Evidence. 2017
Let it be: Accepting negative emotional experiences predicts decreased negative affect and depressive symptoms. 2010

 

What was the most interesting take away from this post?

How do you usually deal with your negative emotions?

Let me know in the comments.

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