Harnessing the positive power of negative emotions

Most of us, if we had a choice, would opt for positive emotions. Feeling happy, uplifted, excited or eager certainly beats being miserable, cross or anxious you would imagine.

However, negative emotions, which are described as ones which cause pain or disturbance which is felt within the body, may be more helpful than positive ones, say experts.

Chris Taylor, a local organisational consultant specialising in the use of small group dynamics to introduce change and growth, says unlike positive emotions, which arise and subside quickly, negative emotions give us a strong message “to get working on them”.

“Many people are afraid to feel these negative emotions - sadness, hurt, anger, fear, and despair. They feel that if they open up to experiencing these feelings, the emotions will be too much for them. They feel terrified that if they get into this experience they’ll remain stuck there forever.”

Negative emotions can play a highly positive role in our lives, he says. “We can thrive on opposition. It seems that we develop in the first years of life a unique template for living that needs to be confronted in order to bring out the best in us. We need to meet with resistance in order to grow. We need to meet our opposites in order to develop. Negative feelings are then the conduit for releasing pent-up energy and vitality.”

Texture of feelings

The first principle in dealing with negative emotions is to develop an awareness or consciousness of them, he says.

“Ask yourself where am I experiencing that unease in my body and what is the texture or quality of my feelings? What message have they for me? Are they valid? Can I contest them? If someone or something is pressing my buttons what does that tell me about me?

“Some authors, like Tony Humphreys, would argue that there is no such thing as a negative emotion. They say all emotions, whether positive or negative, have a definite function, namely, to draw our attention into the present and to explore what is going on inside us.”

Often we do not know the origin of these emotions, ie, what event or series of events caused them. But if we can stick with the feelings they may gradually dissipate and their origin may be revealed to us.

Chris says we can begin to talk ourselves out of the negative emotion by asking ourselves about its origin. If we have an inkling of this try challenging the thought process or belief system that caused the feeling.

“Thinking that another is better than me or can do things better than me may lead to a feeling of envy. However, I can challenge this belief in myself. Is this really true? And if so, what about it? I can still perform to my own standards and level of excellence.”

Emphasis on the individual

How common are negative emotions? “They are perhaps becoming more common, more insidious, more pervasive,” he believes. “The rate of change in modern society, the presence of information overload, the emphasis on the individual and on individual performance, the power of the media, the highly stimulating effects of television which require an immediate response, the demand of the mobile phone for our constant availability - all of these tax our emotions. They also drain our energy and reinforce the background noise and constant mental chatter that lead to the fraying of our nerves.”

Because of the genetic and developmental influences experienced in childhood some of us are more prone to insecurity or to other negative emotions than others. We may be continually exposed to feelings of unease or restlessness (the background noise previously mentioned ).

“But there is also an attitude or atmosphere created within a society which causes us to pick up on the negative vibes around us. If we are not careful we can talk ourselves into a deeper recession by colluding with a negative conversation within our society.”

As we are a body/mind entity negative thoughts and their accompanying feelings affect our health, he says.

“Unattended or niggling negative emotions, which are a part of our body/mind experience, directly affect our bodily functioning and hence our health. Hanging onto negative feelings and failing to bring them out into the open, either by one’s own efforts or with the help of others, can adversely affect our energy levels and bodily health.”

Negative thinking

Our personality is often seen as our particular response to our environment with each of us reacting differently to our circumstances. All personalities seem prone to negative thinking though some appear to be more than others.

“Some of us have powerful internal critics who harass and taunt us in a harsh and bitter way. ‘I should have done this’, ‘I shouldn’t have done that’, ‘I could have done better’, ‘I made an awful fool of myself there’ are all taunts of the inner judge or critic. We can treat the internal critic for what he/she is, namely, a figment of our imagination.

“We undermine its potency by challenging its statements - with comments like these - ‘Was I really that bad?’ ‘Well, I did the best I could under the circumstances’, and other such conversations with ourselves. All of us have some ideal situation or set of circumstances in mind for ourselves and we feel we are falling short of the mark if we do not achieve it. But life would be boring without this resistance to our plans. It is in dealing with our negative circumstances that we grow and develop.”

The fact that women appear to be more in touch with their emotional side than men may help them re-direct their negative energy into something more positive, explains Chris Taylor.

“Because of historical reasons, which have influenced the role of women in society together with their particular physical/hormonal make-up, women appear to be more in touch with their emotional life than men. They are therefore more open to its abuse as well as its treasures. Being in touch with their emotions can allow them to channel the natural energy and vitality of their emotions. It is a matter of catching the energy tied up in the negative emotion and turning it around into a positive motivation for action.”

Rooted in childhood

The origins of our negative thinking patterns are often rooted in childhood, he says. “Childhood is considered generally as the source of our conditioning and of our emotional/mental patterning. As growing children we begin to see ourselves through the eyes of our caretakers, especially those of our mother figure. Because of the inability of our caretakers (though no fault of their own ) to hold our uniqueness and particular emotional responses in a supportive, affirmative way we developed many unfulfilled needs and wants.

“These haunt us during our adult life cropping up at the most unexpected times as they are provoked and set off by people and circumstances. These then are the origins of our negative feelings. Children can experience negative emotions to a greater or lesser extent, depending on their responses to their caretakers’ ability to reflect or mirror back to them their unique emotional and mental lives.”

Do negative emotions interfere greatly with motivation/ambition? Success in life appears to hinge on our emotional or social intelligence - our ability to adapt to situations, circumstances and people, he outlines.

“Promotion in management appears to favour those whose social and interpersonal skills are aligned with their technical or professional skills. Those who lack these interpersonal skills are often promoted beyond their level of competence. Though they possess the necessary technical skills, they fall down in their dealings with people. Negative emotions, which undermine our confidence and bring with them a lowered self-image, inhibit our motivation and our joy in life and work. They operate against our identifying with success and with being a successful/balanced person.”


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