In this article, I will do my best to explain why understanding negative feelings is so critical, and why we should proactively spend energy to unpack their messages.
What do I mean by “negative feelings?”
For the sake of this article, let’s call any undesired and unpleasant emotion, feeling, thought, or reaction a negative feeling.
They include whatever feelings, thoughts, emotions, or reactions you don’t like. Some examples include getting angry at your mom, feeling demotivated, experiencing jealousy, getting triggered for any reason, …
We’re often told, if we cannot change our negative feelings immediately then we should ignore them or push them away, especially when those feelings are “non-constructive” and “irrational.”
So we have another cup of coffee, watch another season of that show on Netflix, or scroll another 30 minutes on Instagram.
And when we cannot fight or avoid that negative feeling on our own, we often blame something or someone, focusing our attention outwards. #blamecovid #blameyourpartner #blameyourboss #blameyourmom
Sometimes we even forcefully reframe negative feelings by shoving positivity down our own throats.
Ignoring, fighting, or forcefully reframing negative feelings only works for a short time, and these actions can create serious damage in the long-term!
Negative Feelings are the Symptom, not the problem!
Fighting, ignoring, or even trying to fix the surface symptom is like taking your car to a mechanic because the maintenance light is ON, but instead of finding what’s wrong and fixing it, he just turns off the maintenance light!
Unfortunately, that’s how most of us learned to deal with our negative feelings! And that’s how many of the “get happy fast” schemes on the internet work. Some of the most commonly prescribed ones these days are forceful positivity…
A part of me is scared, wondering if I’m willing to be publicly crucified for this! 😱
Ok, here we go,
Traditional meditation or breathing exercises will not fix the root problem.
I absolutely LOVE meditation! I meditate every day, usually once or twice a day. I also used to go to a Zen center for the years when I lived in the Bay area. I’ve meditated with Buddhist monks, listened to many lectures, and studied their ideologies for many years.
Meditation is a great tool to access our internal compassionate and peaceful energy!
That’s why I love it!
However, like any great tool, meditation can also be used for the wrong purposes!
If meditation is only used as a tool to ignore and avoid our negative feelings every time they arise, then it’s not much better than taking 3 shots of Tequila. Personally, I’d rather go with the Tequila since it leads to way more interesting stories! 🤣
Then what should we do with our negative feelings?
If you listen deep inside (exact steps for this will be included in a separate article), you’ll see that your negative feelings are actually trying to protect very fragile parts of you that have been hurt many years ago. Our negative feelings are warning us; they want to protect us from feeling that terrible pain again.
Negative Feelings ALWAYS have a reason for doing what they do, and it is ALWAYS with positive intentions!
But here’s the thing: although they mean well, their way of trying to help is quite outdated! Our minds first created these negative feelings as answers to problems in childhood, but they haven’t been updated since. That’s why in our adult life, they tend to cause other problems.
Example 1 — Demotivation
Once, I was feeling really unmotivated to do any of the projects that I had envisioned myself doing. So I decided to really dig deep into this feeling, using a methodology that I will explain in another article.
To my surprise, I discovered that this feeling was actually trying to protect me!
If I didn’t feel demotivated, I would try new things, then there would be a risk of failing and experiencing the pain of rejection again. So my brain created “demotivation” as a protection mechanism to reduce the chance of feeling rejected again.
Of course, demotivation can bring other problems, such as self-shaming for not being productive enough. As I mentioned earlier, our childhood brains created these protection mechanisms out of the sense of urgency to protect ourselves. But they’re no longer as helpful to us as adults. It’s like a one-trick-pony that has not learned a new trick in decades.
Example 2 — Anger
One of my friends used to immediately get angry whenever she felt she wasn’t heard or listened to. Instead of trying to clarify or restate what she meant, and try to make herself understood, she would just get very angry.
When she dug deeper into this reactive feeling, she realized that her anger was trying to make her feel safe by reinforcing her boundaries. When she was a kid, her subconscious mind learned that she needed to get angry for others to listen to her needs.
As you see, although the intention is positive, the method of solving the issue may lead to other issues.
— — —
Some might ask,
“Do all negative emotions have positive intentions? Even suicidal thoughts?”
Even the suicidal, self-cutting, binge-eating, anorexic, or self-hating thoughts are rooted in self-preservational intentions. For example, suicidal thoughts suggest suicide as a solution to stop feeling so much pain. Self-hating thoughts may be protecting you from feeling even more rejection.
Although the reasoning may be different from person to person, the rationale behind someone’s self-hating part could be something like this: “if I reject and hate myself, then if I get rejected or abandoned, it wouldn’t surprise me as much anymore, therefore I would feel less pain.”
Even if you understand the rationale behind these negative feelings, you still cannot make an instant decision to change how they operate. The way negative feelings are triggered is deeply hard-wired into our brains, and they have been reinforced by many years of repetition.
“So is it possible to change these negative feelings at all?”
Absolutely, it is!
But not from a place of force or suppression, but rather from a place of listening, understanding, and compassion.
Negative feelings are all like different mini-characters inside of us.
They have a job: to protect the fragile, “child-like” parts of us that have been hurt before.
Like any good protector, they feel proud of their job, and will not give up their role until they are sure they no longer need to protect any parts of us.
Forcing yourself to change negative feelings without fully understanding them, makes them even worse!
Since negative feelings are the loyal protectors of our deepest wounds, attacking or avoiding them would just make them take a stronger position. That’s because, since you’re trying to demolish that protection, they work even harder to protect your old wounds. (e.g. binge-eating more, self-shaming more, demotivating more)
When negative emotions are fully suppressed, they will find means to express themselves in ways that would appear completely unrelated to you!
Some commonly found examples are physical pains such as, panic attacks, random headaches and body aches, and phobias such as fear of flying, driving, or small spaces.
For the negative feelings to change their role, we need to be able to heal the old wounds that they are protecting.
In the “demotivation” example that I mentioned above, we learned that demotivation was actually trying to protect me from potentially feeling rejection again. So that means that I have a “child part” of me that has been rejected in the past and is deeply wounded by it.
And if I look inside to search for the memories of a time in my childhood, or even in adulthood that I felt very rejected, I can find a few intense memories.
To be able to retire my demotivation protection mechanism so that it wouldn’t need to protect me from my old wounds any longer, I first need to heal those rejection wounds.
Luckily, scientists and psychologists have found a way to rewire our brain and heal those old wounds!
Here’s a super simplified, high-level overview of how this process works:
I would re-activate those old painful rejection memories by witnessing them again. Then, I’d reprocess them in a way that the negative emotion that was attached to those memories could diminish or change to positive emotions. This process is called memory reconsolidation.
After I change the way that those painful rejection memories are emotionally stored in my brain, my brain would then no longer need to fire up its demotivation protection mechanism to safeguard me from feeling rejected again.
Let me clarify: this is not something that you can do on your own without proper knowledge or training. You may actually create more trauma by opening up old emotional wounds.
If you’re interested, there are several professional therapy models that have memory reconsolidation in their core. You can contact therapists trained in those modalities for therapy sessions: Internal Family Systems (IFS), EMDR, Coherence Therapy, EFT, NLP, psychedelic therapy, among others.
Personal Example of Resolving a Negative Feeling
Not long ago, there were days here and there that I didn’t want to do anything productive whatsoever. I would spend a lot of time on Facebook, Instagram, and Netflix. I only had the motivation to do just 2 hours of work, if any!
After some deep digging, healing my demotivation “protector,” and many of my rejection wounds, I now feel completely rejuvenated again!
Using the more traditional therapy methods, this could’ve taken me maybe weeks or months (and a lot of homework in between.)
But for me, this specific issue, only took 1 hour of IFS therapy and one night of sleep. So far, I have not felt any of the same demotivation problems anymore. Not even close!
Although no-one should expect a one session fix to a problem, my point is that “memory reconsolidation” methods can heal a lot faster and deeper than the traditional “talk therapy.”
I’ve also done many more healings besides this one; I will share my other experiences later.
For a long time, I used to think I’m a very happy and positive person, because I was great at “controlling my feelings!” That basically meant, I was just listening to the positive voices in my head and unconsciously ignoring and pushing back on any negative feelings.
Over time, my avoidance caused my negative feelings to become stronger and find other ways to channel their energy. This started having terrible impact not only on my life but also my loved-ones around me.
Those issues lead me on a fascinating journey of discovery with the question:
What can bring peace, joy, and wholeness at the deepest, most sustainable level of our being, as quickly as possible?
Since then, I’ve studied many self-help books, as well as researched on and experimented with a few therapy models, to understand what can really cause transformational change.
There are many frameworks that help towards incremental healing (slow change over a long time). But some can really have huge transformational healing in a very short period of time.
Based on my research, I’ve found one healing model that absolutely blows everything else out of the water. It is called “Internal Family Systems” (IFS). It is not only a way of transformational healing, but also a new way of experiencing daily life. Since discovering it, it has made my life and the lives of others I know incredibly peaceful, joyful, and compassionate in every possible way.
For more info about IFS, checkout the resources at the end.
Although we’re told to ignore, avoid, or fight our negative feelings, doing so, will only worsen these symptoms! Instead of switching off the “maintenance light,” we can actually look under the hood and heal our old wounds.
The same way negative feelings are contagious, so are positive feelings. Once we heal ourselves then the world around us naturally gets better as well.
I hope I have convinced you, at least to some extent, to dig deeper into your negative emotions, so you too can find sustainable peace and joy. I will write more step by step instructions in my next article. Meanwhile, check out some of the resources below.
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For comments & discussions, please feel free to connect with me at S [at] sashaeslami.com