As we all know, negative emotions are unpleasant to experience. Most people take every effort to avoid feeling them from the moment they arise.
Turning to drugs or alcohol, spending hours online, binging on sugar, going on a spending spree or dissociating into fantasy.
Unfortunately these coping mechanisms do nothing to address the cause of the negative emotions.
They always return, often stronger than before.
Negative emotions → Avoidant Coping Strategy → Temporary Relief → Stronger Negative Emotions → More Avoidant Coping Strategies …
There is another approach that can be taken. Unfortunately, this approach is not pretty and certainly doesn’t feel pleasurable in the moment. But it will break that cycle forever.
You need to embrace your negative emotions as a friend.
When you share your problems, a good friend won’t offer you a beer and say ‘just forget about it’ (avoidant strategy), they will instead help you to work through the problem, offer solutions and support.
If your friend notices you acting out of character or doing something that you may later regret, they won’t simply ignore it or go just along with it (avoidant strategy), they will instead pull you up on your actions and warn you.
In both of the above scenarios, the situation may get tense, feelings risk getting hurt, and there may be some initial misunderstandings. Ultimately however, you know that your friend has your best interests at heart, as well as the advantage of a detached perspective — they are not as emotionally involved in your life as you are.
Your friend is in a position that they can see things you can’t, and thus give you beneficial advice — provided you take it that is.
The same is true for your negative emotions. They are little (or not so little) warning signs about something going on in your personal life, relationships or work.
Negative emotions are there to tell you something important, and like a good friend, they will keep returning to warn you until you take appropriate action.
What To Do When You Notice A Negative Emotion?
When you first notice a negative emotion, avoid the temptation to run from it. Instead, try to look at it, embrace it and accept it.
Realise that the negative emotions are arising for some reason — likely in response to something that you have said or done, or something someone has said or done to you.
As you would listen to a friend, you should also take some time to listen to your negative emotions.
What are they trying to tell you here? What are they pulling you up on? What do they want?
You now have a choice. Do you continue to avoid the issue that they are raising with you, or do you take action?
Please don’t let me give you any delusions here. This will not be easy — there is a reason you have avoided taking action up until now.
Your emotions may be suggesting that you need to change jobs, end relationships, learn new skills, start saying ‘no’ more often, move houses, start seeing a therapist, commit to a self-help program, or any other number of things.
Only you can decide if you should take the action.
One thing is certain however, regardless of if you do take the action or not, the severity and impact of your negative emotions will reduce. You have listened and did not run.
Your emotions have been heard and their ‘opinions’ considered.
Remember, they are telling you something about your personal life, relationships or work. Something is happening that is going against your core being, and they are letting you know about it.
Failure to listen to the advice of my negative emotions has caused me tremendous personal and financial distress over the years. Something that I hope to avoid in the future.
The only caveat to this concept is when the negative emotions become overwhelming. If they are so strong that your functionality is impacted, or you are falling into a bout of mental illness, then you should certainly speak to a therapist about how to manage your emotions.
This blog post was written for one of my Patreon supporters. Thank you for your support.
~ Zachary Phillips
Ready To Start Thriving?
If you want to start living a life of fulfilment, happiness and meaning, take a look at “The Seven Life Principles That You Need To Turn Your Life Around” checklist.