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Why You Should Always Embrace Negative Emotions

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Why You Should Always Embrace Negative Emotions

One of the biggest misperceptions about personal development is that it leads to permanent, unflappable happiness. The point of personal development isn’t to feel happy all the time. Instead, it’s to become more aware of what we’re feeling and to have greater self-mastery over how we respond to our feelings.

The truth is that so-called “negative” emotions are important. Here’s why:

Negative emotions are a natural part of life

Just as the colours of the rainbow run from one end of a spectrum to the other, so do our emotions. We might prefer the experience of certain emotions, but whether we like it or not they will all show up at certain points. Although we can influence our emotions, we can’t control them and we certainly can’t get rid of our less desirable feelings on demand.

In Buddhism, one of the Four Noble Truths is that pain exists, but suffering is optional. Another way of understanding this is to use the equation:

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Suffering = Pain x Resistance

The more we resist negative emotions, the more we will suffer. We are going to feel negative emotions, whether we like it or not. Although it sounds counterintuitive, accepting them means we’re less likely to suffer.

Negative emotions are useful

Not only are negative emotions a natural part of life, but they are that way for a good reason. Fear, anger, hurt, rejection — all these feelings are useful emotional responses to certain situations. For example, fear helps us survive. Without fear, we’d be crossing the road without looking. We wouldn’t think twice about walking alone through a dodgy part of town in the middle of the night. We’d get ourselves into all kinds of physically dangerous situations.

Sometimes these feelings crop up in inopportune or unwanted situations. For example, we might feel the same kind of fear when we think about public speaking as we do when we imagine scaling Everest. The solution isn’t to never feel fear, though. Instead, it’s to learn how to manage it so it can serve it’s natural purpose.

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How to embrace negative emotions

1. Reframe them from “negative,” “bad,” or “unhelpful” to “uncomfortable.”

So-called negative feelings get a bad rap because they feel uncomfortable. Just because they feel uncomfortable, however, doesn’t mean they’re negative (remember, they’re actually helpful).

If you’re struggling to embrace negative emotions, reframe them as “uncomfortable.” With this, you acknowledge your feelings without sending yourself the message they are bad or wrong.

2. Separate out the feeling from the story or meaning you attach to it.

When we struggle to accept certain feelings, it’s usually because we’re attaching a story or meaning to the feeling.

“I feel jealous…and it’s wrong to feel jealous.

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“I’m feeling angry…and women shouldn’t feel angry.

If we’re harbouring these beliefs and stories, it’s hard to embrace our negative emotions. Notice the meanings and stories you’re attaching to your feelings. Then, separate your objective experience of the feeling from the meaning or story you’re attaching to it.

3. Allow yourself to truly feel the feeling.

Another counter-intuitive truth about feelings is the more we try to resist them, the stronger they get. If we let ourselves feel, however, the intensity dissapates.

Let the feeling wash over you. Feel the physical sensations that come with it and take a few deep breaths as you experience it. You might notice that even a few seconds of this is enough before the feeling fades.

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4. Get curious about the message in the feeling

All feelings happen for a reason. The reason might not be immediately obvious, nor might it be directly related to the present situation. But it will be there.

Instead of writing off negative emotions, practice asking “What is the lesson here? What can I learn from this experience?” Remember, negative emotions are your own internal warning system that something is off-kilter.

The more exploration you’re wiling to do, the more information you’ll have. Then, you can take action to right the balance and bring harmony back into your world.

Featured photo credit: angela n. via flickr.com

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Hannah Braime

Hannah is a coach who believes the world is a richer place when we have the courage to be fully self-expressed.

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