This is part three in a four-part series on Flourishing
Managing negative emotions properly can help you flourish. The key is to acknowledge -- or make room for -- negative emotions soon after they occur. Accepting and expressing your reactions helps them to be both appropriate to the circumstances and time-limited. Personally, I find it reassuring that there are healthy, safe ways to manage negative reactions -- it makes me feel less guilty and anxious about having them.
Four out of five of our basic (or primitive) emotions are negative: disgust, fear, anger, sorrow (the fifth is joy). Each negative emotion has a predictable trigger; and each in turn generates a specific, predictable physical response:
- When something or someone is unhealthy, we feel disgust and recoil
- When something or someone is dangerous, we feel fear and retreat
- When something or someone is thwarting us, we feel anger and attack
- When something or someone important is gone, we feel sorrow and weep
How can you learn from and use your negative emotions more effectively?
Negative emotions alert you to undesirable changes – physical and emotional threats. Each time you have a negative emotion you must, consciously or unconsciously, make a judgment call about whether to conceal or express your feelings. In a perfect world, expressing negative emotions protects you from threats, but in the real world, expressing negative emotions in the moment sometimes make a bad situation worse. Whether you decide to share your emotions with others or not, acknowledging and expressing your own negative emotions helps you rebound quickly and move on with greater resilience and calm.
To manage negative emotions in healthy ways, give them time, thought and free expression.
Make time to routinely experience and vent your negative emotions. Choose whether to do this alone or with someone else, but search for ways to safely express yourself.
- Primal Expression: Reveal yourself physically, in private (scream in the shower, punch the bed, watch a sad movie and let yourself cry).
- Social Expression: Before deciding to share your emotions, consider (or imagine) how the recipient is likely to respond. If it seems safe, talk to the person who triggered your emotions. Otherwise, pick someone (a friend, a family member, or a counselor) who is psychologically minded and open to an honest expression of your feelings and talk with them.
- Reasonable Expression: Notice what triggers your emotions and notice your responses – are they appropriate? Think about your negative emotions, feelings and expressions; do they send you in good directions with positive outcomes? If not, consider what is going wrong.
Try to accept negative emotions as a healthy part of yourself. Finding ways to express them, even privately, can help you flourish.