Negative emotions, such a sadness, anger, guilt, shame and fear can be draining and can contribute to a reduced state of health and wellbeing. Such emotions can also contribute significantly to conditions of fatigue and pain. It goes without saying that when we experience negative emotions, we are not in a particularly happy place or feeling at peace. It is more the case that we feel weak and inadequate and may fear the worst – our equilibrium is shaken at these times. These difficult emotions have been labelled as negative because we feel down on ourselves, or we feel miserable or hopeless about life in general. The feelings may be attached to thoughts about ourselves, other people or external events. When we label difficult emotions as negative, we classify them as bad.
Positive and negative emotions
It is interesting that we often place a value base, either positive or negative, upon our emotions and also our thoughts, thereby relating our emotional state and our thinking to good or bad. There is the inference that all sadness, fear, anxiety, guilt and shame is bad and all happiness, joy, excitement and peace is good. In fact, all of these words are simply descriptions of our emotional states, and we know that our emotional states are as changing as the clouds in the sky. It would be unusual to describe clouds as positive or negative – they are simply clouds that pass over. The different clouds are a response to, and are necessary for, the varying weather patterns, and we describe them in ways that are devoid of any value judgment. Our emotions are really no different to clouds, yet we tend to classify them as either positive or negative, good or bad. If we view our emotions in a similar way to the clouds, perhaps we could better understand that all of our emotions are necessary for, or are a response to, particular events in our lives.
Our emotions can also help us to notice aspects of our lives that we may need to observe more closely, as difficult emotions tend to attract our attention in more demanding ways. Through our difficult and challenging emotions, we are given the opportunity to take notice of any messages that may be contained in these particular states.
Our so-called negative emotions are not all negative or bad at all. Perhaps it is more accurate and more useful to label them as unpleasant rather than negative. Unpleasant emotions actually allow us to investigate underlying reasons for our feelings and to reflect on the thoughts that may have given rise to the difficult emotions that we experience. If we didn’t have difficult feelings, we would probably not be shaken from our pleasant or calm position – there would be little reason to change anything about us and little reason to grow and mature.
Unpleasant feelings cause us to feel uncomfortable and it is generally the degree of discomfort that is experienced that determines our desire for change. If we are not really affected by our feelings of stress or anxiety, we are less likely to choose to act upon them. Our lives are not so disrupted with milder unpleasant feelings, or with pleasant feelings for that matter, so it is unlikely that these feelings will prompt us to change our lives in any way. It is usually when unpleasant feelings become more intense and more intrusive to our peaceful state, that we take greater notice and then decide to take action, with the aim of minimising or eliminating the intrusions to our feelings of wellbeing. These so-called negative feelings, although unpleasant, are in fact, the catalyst for change in our lives and the pathway to our healing.
Judging our emotions
Our emotions and also our thoughts are simply what they are at a given point in time, and it is not helpful to make judgments about any of them. When we make judgments about our emotions and our thoughts, we can very easily personalise the judgments. We may begin to view ourselves or others as bad, weak, useless or inadequate when we are feeling low, when we label the difficult emotions as negative. Our feelings do not define who we are, and it is erroneous to draw conclusions about ourselves based on our feelings. We can see more clearly that this is the case when we recognise that on different days or different moments of the day, we experience different emotions, and the emotions are most likely linked to our thinking at the time. Given that most people have around 60,000 – 70,000 thoughts in a day, it is likely that our emotions are constantly varying depending on our thoughts.
The person I really am therefore, cannot be based on my thoughts or feelings as they are forever changing. Furthermore, the dire outcomes that I may predict (think) when I am feeling low, cannot be taken to be the truth, given that in other moments when I am feeling more upbeat, I have a different sense (thoughts) about any outcomes.
Healing our difficult experiences
It is important to keep perspective about our feelings and the thoughts that may arise from our difficult emotions. In chronic conditions of either a physical or psychological nature, identifying and healing the unpleasant or difficult emotions associated with the various challenging experiences of our lives is essential if we wish to attain the greatest level of healing. This is not to suggest that debilitation and pain is all in the head, or that our conditions are not real. It is simply recognising and acknowledging that we are more than the physical aspects of ourselves, and that our greatest healing is dependent upon healing the physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual aspects of our lives. If it were the case that physical and mental health conditions were ‘all in our heads’ and of our own conscious making, we would surely consciously change our challenging experiences and conditions! It is however, important for us to acknowledge that we are more than our physical bodies, and to recognise and honour that we are emotional, psychological and spiritual beings also, contained in our physical bodies. Holistic healing therefore must address all aspects of ourselves.
The importance of gratitude
We can be grateful for our difficult emotions, knowing that they may be nudging us in some way, and propelling us towards change and growth. When we are more grateful, we become more gentle, which in turn leads us to greater acceptance of ourselves with all of our emotions, whatever they may be.
An important note: If your difficult emotions do not subside, it is recommended that you check in with a health professional.
Margaret welcomes your comments. You may have your own tips and some insights to share, or some questions or responses to this article.
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