We’ve all felt some type of negative emotion at one point in our lives, but the question is, how is that affecting your life? Does it get in the way of doing your best work, being productive, developing a deeper connection with someone?
Because it’s definitely affecting mine!
I’ve been terrible with my emotions. My emotional intelligence was nonexistent. I was an emotive Asian American kid who struggled with expressing myself comfortably.
I’ve internalized all of my negative emotions over the years and it’s been collecting as a tangled mess in my mind. It’s stopping me from trying new things, taking risks, starting a business, developing deeper relationships with women, connecting with friends and people who want to help.
“Fear keeps you from seeing beauty.” -Will Smith
There’s so much of the human experience to explore, things to do, places to see, people to befriend.
So is there something we can do about it? Can we learn how to be better with our emotions?
We might be able to, with something one of my good friends showed me recently, the Negative Emotion Typology.
How to Define Our Emotions
Developed by the Delft Institute of Positive Design, the Negative Emotion Typology defines a number of human emotions and the typical scenarios for when we would feel each one.
The idea is to use this tool to pinpoint what you’re actually feeling, gain insight on why you are feeling that way, then start to come up with steps to minimize it.
For the past year, I’ve been struggling with so many different feelings. Everything from not being fulfilled by my job, to risking it all and becoming an online entrepreneur and content creator, to contemplating my purpose in life, to finding what truly excites me, all outside my comfort zone.
At first, I thought my stagnation and fear was anxiety, but as I read its definition, I realized that I’m not in any real life-threatening situation. There may be some uncertainty in my future, but there’s nothing I have to be physically on-guard for.
So I scrolled to the bottom of the anxiety page and compared it with insecurity.
“In the case of anxiety, the threat is existential: threatening the physical and mental wellbeing of a person. For insecurity, the threat is social: not measuring up in the eyes of others and ultimately, being accepted.”
That’s it! Going into a totally different life on my own is scary not because of some external threat but because I don’t know what my friends and family and the public will think of me. Will this actually work? What if I fail and embarrass myself? What if I can’t recover from such a drastic change?
But now knowing that the root cause was just my own insecurity, I was able to discredit that feeling by questioning how irrational it all was. Why stress myself out by asking all of these what if’s? I don’t actually know any of those things will happen unless I try. Who says I won’t be able to recover or adapt? I’ve been adaptable all my life and have come out on top after failing multiple times. Why do I keep forgetting about this resilience I already have?
But most importantly, why would I give up so much of my power away to anyone else by letting them control my mind, thoughts, and feelings?
That’s one thing I’ve learned on this journey so far. That we have more control with our emotions than we think. The fear, anxiety, insecurity, whatever it may be, doesn’t have to define us.
What Are Emotions Anyway?
You might be thinking, But emotions are just a part of us, they’re innate to human nature, we can’t control them.
That used to be the common knowledge, for sure. But more research has been done that is proving otherwise.
For the past 25 years, psychology professor Lisa Feldman Barrett has studied emotions in the human brain. She shared her findings on a TED talk that tells us our emotions are not as instinctive as we think.
Bennet says that our brains are only making its “best guess” for how it should interpret the situation in front of us. It uses past experiences to try to give the current thing context for you to appropriately respond.
This makes so much sense. Think about how two people can have a different reaction to say, a dramatic movie scene. One can resonate with it, cry with it, feel a wide range of emotions, while the other can be completely unphased because it’s not as applicable to their lives.
Plus, people from different parts of the world will have a different meaning for each of their emotions. In the West, we think of happiness as excitement, joy, and high-energy, whereas a lot of countries in the East associate happiness to a calm and relaxed state. The West is a lot more expressive and it’s customary to smile, but in places like Japan, India, or Russia, smiling too much can be seen as unintelligent.
So emotions are just a perspective, all within our own minds, which might be a hard pill to swallow at first because it means you are actually responsible for a lot of what happens. But it’s also empowering (at least to me) because it means that I am accountable for my own emotions and have more control to be able to find solutions.
We don’t have to feel stuck feeling bad, or short-tempered, or highly-sensitive to negative emotions all the time. Our emotions are only meant to be signals for what might be happening, but we don’t have to give it so much weight and truth, especially the negative ones.
OK cool, so why don’t we just think more positive thoughts and call it a day then?
Well, it’s a little more complicated than that.
Emotions Are Not Easy to Deal With
I’m not saying that we could just think happy thoughts and we’ll forever be successful, joyful, and fulfilled (though it wouldn’t hurt to be optimistic). But believing in and getting stuck with the negative emotions are definitely not going to help get us where we want to be.
Sitting in that anger, or anxiety, or stress, or fear is only going to lead to more of the same. Those emotions stagnate us, keeps us in the same place. They are great signals for what may happen, maybe even positive change, but dwelling in them only wastes our most precious resource, time.
I know it’s not that easy to just shrug things off, or simply remove yourself from the negative emotions. But the first step is to define the specific feeling you’re experiencing and I guarantee you’ll already feel a bit better.
Having that self-awareness is a critical trait for building that emotional resilience you need to be more productive, create deeper connections, and live more passionately.
Reach New Highs by Getting Low
What do you do when you want to jump higher? First, you have to lower yourself into a crouch to create the potential energy to jump.
I tried to stay positive all the time, so I ignored my negative emotions and claimed that they weren’t real, that they aren’t me. The people around me and in society reinforced that for me. They kept telling me to just “get over it,” “man up,” “don’t be so sensitive.” So I did, I kept them locked up.
Then every time I put one into a cage, it grew angrier, fiercer. And sometimes it would escape and come back stronger, bringing a bunch of its friends with it.
Well, what if we frame these negative emotions as something that’s not actually that needy. Maybe they don’t need all of our attention, but just a small piece of acknowledgment. Maybe they just want to be heard. You don’t have to agree with them, but we should at least give them a listen rather than trying to delegitimize them.
It will be scary at first, going into the deep basement of your mind, but the basis of all fear is uncertainty and if you accept that, there’s nowhere else to go but up.
The most exciting life stories have both ups and downs. You need to tell both. You can’t jump higher from a standing position.
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