Struggling with negativity? 5 ways to overcome your situation15 September 2017 - mindful practices
“The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.” – Rumi
Are you terrified of negative feelings? We’re often asked to “just be positive”, but research shows that forcing positivity tends to bring unhappiness. As the psychoanalyst Carl Jung once said, “What you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.”
Instead of forcing positivity, how can we embrace our negative emotions? “We could allow our feelings and look upon their comings and goings as something beautiful and necessary as changes in the weather,” suggests the philosopher Alan Watts. “There may be wrong actions in the sense of actions contrary to the rules of human communication, [but] there aren’t any wrong feelings.”
Here are 5 ways to embrace your emotions in a way that doesn’t overwhelm you.
1. Label your emotions
Labelling your emotions reduces their impact, but labelling them incorrectly can result in an incorrect response.
Harvard psychologist Susan David writes, “Anger and stress are often masks for deeper feelings that we should describe in more nuanced and precise ways. Having the right vocabulary allows us to…take a messy experience, understand it more clearly, and build a roadmap to address the problem.”
David also suggests using more than one word so that you can explore the breadth of your emotions or uncover a deeper emotion buried underneath.
Here’s a useful list of emotional terms.
2. Evaluate the intensity of your emotions
How you respond to ‘anger’ as compared to ‘annoyance’ can be different. If you label your spouse as ‘angry’ when he/she was actually just annoyed, you’re bound to either get angry yourself or shut down in fear.
Knowing the intensity of someone’s or your own emotions (annoyed vs. angry, grumpy vs. angry, unsettled vs. sad) enables you to respond more effectively. For example, if you know that your spouse is grumpy—not angry—you may decide to try to make him/her laugh, rather than get angry or worried yourself.
3. Write it down or talk it out
Research shows that writing down how you’re feeling or talking it out helps you gain clarity and calm. Emotions are often layered—when you’re angry, it’s likely that there are other emotions lurking beneath.
Putting concrete words to abstract feelings forces you to reflect and process things, helping you unpack and identify messy emotions and their implications. You may even gain a new perspective or two. Try answering these questions for a start.
4. Accept, don’t judge
Rather than label your emotions as “wrong”, suppress them or act out, notice their purpose instead. Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, writes, “Negative emotions have an important role to play in a happy life; they’re big, flashing signs that something needs to change.”
5. Rely on your values
Emotions are often volatile, but values usually stay constant. David suggests allowing yourself to be guided by your values and not your emotions. If you feel upset about a situation, notice your emotion as a signal for you to return to your values. Once you’re confident that your actions align with your values (and not just your emotions), you’ll be able to respond appropriately and either let go or make peace with your emotions.
Do these tips help you? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Mindful Company Team