The Purpose of Negative Emotions and How to Use Them to Your Advantage
Grief. Suffering. Anger. Anxiety. All of these words come with their own visceral experience. Even seeing them on the screen, you can feel the punch in the gut, the struggle for air, the adrenaline coursing through your veins, and the weight on your body that feels like you’re walking through quicksand.
As people, we become averse to these emotions. We run from them, avoid them, and stuff them until we can no longer hide them from ourselves, and even then, we seek the answers of zen to take these nightmare-making emotions away as fast as possible.
But what if I told you that negative emotions are actually good?
Okay, maybe not good necessarily, but useful and important. And the more you try to outrun the negative emotions, the harder they will pound you when you get too exhausted to run any further. There is a much more powerful and grounding way to deal with these emotions.
1. Examine the emotion
Negative emotions are so powerful because they’re like big, blinking neon warning signs saying, “HEY! Something’s wrong here! Pay attention!”. The problem is that because those signs can be blinding, it’s easy to close your eyes and shield yourself from them. The problem with that is you miss their intended purpose altogether when that happens.
Negative emotions exist for one main purpose: to let you know when something has gone awry. When you fall and scratch your knee, it hurts. If it didn’t hurt, you wouldn’t know to tend the wound and you’d risk making it worse. Emotions are like nerve endings for your mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness. When things hurt, it means they need to be examined, not run from, ignored, or buried.
When you examine the emotion you’re feeling, you need to ask yourself this question first: Is this thought true?
If the thought isn’t true, then you need to change your thoughts. If the thought is true, then you need to change your actions so that you can change the truth to be in alignment with who you truly are instead of who you’ve been acting like.
“When embraced and accepted, negative emotions can be a powerful catalyst to positive change in one’s life and can lead to deeper feeling of meaning and authenticity.” – Paul Wong
2. Changing your thoughts
Thoughts are like horses. They’ll run wild and trample all over you if you let them. But if you lead them, direct them, and corral them, then they can be quite useful. The more you allow your thoughts to spiral and run away with you, the more negative emotions they’ll create for you to process. And if you stuff those negative emotions in a corner somewhere, eventually they’ll come back to bite you. But changing your thoughts, that is the key.
When we talk about changing your thoughts, we’re not talking about distracting yourself with a better feeling thought. That won’t help you. Instead, we’re talking about examining the thought and breaking down why it’s not true so that you can actually change the thought to something that is true.
For example, if you have the thought, Nobody likes me, running around in your head all day, that’s not serving you. When you actually look at that thought, is it true? Probably not. Break it down as to why.
You probably have a friend or two that like you. You may have a family member that likes you. There’s that neighbor that tries to bend your ear every time you wave hello at the mailbox. You may have pets who adore you. So if it’s not true that nobody likes you, what is true?
Could you say, “I have people and animals in my life who value me”? Or how about, “The relationships I have are ones where I’m cherished”? Or even this one, “I am liked by some people”?
Notice, you’re not trying to go to the other extreme and say, “EVERYBODY likes me!” That wouldn’t feel true, and your subconscious mind would immediately kick it out. But if you can reach for something that’s more true that you can show yourself is accurate, that allows you to actually change your thoughts.
3. Changing your behavior
Sometimes when looking at a thought, it’s going to feel like a sucker punch because the thought is true in that moment. But that doesn’t mean it has to be true forever. It’s in that moment that you get to make an important decision. Are you going to live according to a truth that you don’t want to experience or are you going to change your behavior to live in alignment with the truth you desire?
It’s a confronting choice because changing your behavior requires you to make new conscious decisions. You have to examine, “What are the thought patterns that come up that perpetuate this cycle of behavior?” Once you’ve identified those patterns of thoughts, you have to actively choose something else instead.
Transformational Meditation™ is one of the techniques that can help with this, but for now, watch the excuses that you’ll use to keep yourself from living the aligned truth. Once you know what they are and get adept at talking yourself through them to take the action that you need to take, the new behavior becomes your default. And then you’re free to make better choices, which will reduce your experience of negative emotions as a natural consequence.
As painful as negative emotions can be, they’re there to show you your next stage of growth. When you can see where the work needs to be done and you run toward it instead of away from it, you’ll reduce negative emotional suffering and get to aligned living faster.