When I thought of penning down my views on negative emotions and how it brings health, I was very skeptical as to how would everyone take it? Especially in the era of “smile and the world will smile back at you” we live in.
Everywhere we look, there are messages such as, “Smile more often” or “Think positive” as if it was that easy and even the right thing to do.
I know I might sound very controversial but being a counselor and an enthusiast of psychology, I must forewarn you that those messages are hazardous, because they aim to drive people away from a very natural and important psychological resource: Negativity. And by reading “The Upside of Your Dark Side” by Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener, you will see that there are many scientific findings supporting this claim.
So when I was going through an article about the positive side of negative emotions, this particular therapist says that he was counseling a client seeking help untangling his personal problems, even though as a counselor, he strives to be warm, nonjudgmental and encouraging, but he got a bit unsettled when in the midst of describing his painful experiences, he says, “I'm sorry for being so negative.”
Which is then I too decided to write about our negative emotions, because a vital purpose of therapy is to learn to acknowledge and express a full range of emotions, and here was a client apologizing for doing just that.
I have seen cases with highly distressing emotions but the saddest part is when we are guilty or ashamed for feeling such emotions for what we perceive it to be negativity. Such reactions undeniably stem from our culture's intervening bias toward positive thinking.
Although positive emotions are worth cultivating, problems arise when people start believing they must be upbeat all the time.
As they say it the quest for happiness is a noble quest and indeed working to become a happier person has many obvious (and some not so obvious) profits. But it would be easy to take this truth and derive some altogether false and damaging ideas from it. Happiness is indeed a virtue, but it is too easy to dismiss negative emotions as, by contrast, something “bad."
It’s not enjoyable to feel aggravated, sad, worried, and so on, but that doesn’t mean that these negative emotions are altogether or intrinsically bad. In fact, experiencing a variety of emotions is an extremely advantageous thing and it is a defining element of our civilization and necessary for living an unprejudiced life.
Anger and sadness are a vital part of life, and new research shows that experiencing and accepting such emotions are vital to our mental health. Attempting to suppress thoughts can backfire and even diminish our sense of contentment. Instead of backing away from negative emotions, acknowledge them. Accept how you are feeling without hastening to alter your emotional state. If we always tell ourselves to smile when all we want to do is cry, we are psychologically mistreating ourselves, which in the long run will negatively impact our psychological welfare. Negative emotions exist for a reason; they make us aware of our self and inform us of our values. They protect us, make us aware of dangers, and let us know something is not working for us.
If the emotion is overwhelming, you may want to express how you feel in a journal or to another person. The exercise may shift your perspective and bring a sense of closure. If the discomfort lingers, consider taking action. You may want to tell a friend her comment was hurtful or take steps to leave the job that makes you miserable.
You may also try doing mindfulness exercises to help you become aware of your present experience without passing judgment on it. One way to train yourself to adopt this state is to focus on your breathing while meditating and simply acknowledge any fleeting thoughts or feelings.
I know, a lot has been written about how to cope with or how to wane away negative emotions, after all, we know that every one of us is vulnerable to a crisis or any catastrophe. And I am not trying to convince you that negatively is better than being positive, but there are moments where allowing yourself into some negativity can help you achieve better results in your life, work, relationship, etc.
The secret is to become skilled at implementing the right equilibrium between positive and negative emotions. Of course, positive emotions generate a more gratifying feeling but that doesn’t mean we should always be in positive states of mind.
Let’s accept our negative emotions instead of backing away and suppressing it. We should be able to acknowledge our feelings without rushing to change our emotional state. If you see the brighter side, negative emotions play a pivotal role in motivating us to achieve the zenith because nobody wants to change if he or she is feeling good. Negative emotions prompt us to act upon our current circumstance and generate positive changes.
Again I am not at all trying to debase positivity but it is important for us to know that we are human beings who feel both positive and negative emotions. The goal is to feel the appropriate emotion during each circumstance rather than feeling happy all the time. Beyond this, we should strive to create the conditions in our own lives that make happiness the appropriate emotion to feel.