Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we have a clear picture of it.Benedict Spinoza
Emotions play an important role in how we perceive and interact with our world. They drive most of our actions, decisions and provide a sense of well-being. Most emotions arise unconsciously as ways of adopting to changes around us. And most of the times we tend to record only those emotions that are intense or those that disturb our momentary state of mind. This is because our emotional memories are stronger and easier to recall as they have a stronger physical grounding than feelings. Also, certain emotions cause us discomfort or anguish, as a result, we tend to react impulsively with little or no consideration to the consequences.
For instance, in everyday life, we might experience emotions such as anxiousness when it comes to meeting deadlines, anger when it comes to events happening outside of our control, annoyance at a coworker for not completing a task, or despair at not being able to stick to a new workout routine. Even though we are mostly emotional beings and tend to go through life with an emotional mind, without taking proper control of our consistent emotions, we can rarely shape our daily life experiences.
Changing how we feel is the motivation behind virtually all of our behaviours, yet, we are limited in our ability to deal with the negative emotional patterns that we habitually experience. Many of us suffer from the delusion that our emotions are out of our control and assume they arise in response to what others say and do. But it is mostly a misconception. By being aware of your limiting emotional patterns, you can work towards replacing them with positive emotional states.
Understanding our negative emotions…
A negative emotion is an unpleasant or an unhappy emotion which arises spontaneously in reaction to an experience of displeasure or discomfort in our life. You might experience painful or unpleasant emotions in scenarios like something what you are doing is not working, like for instance, the procedures you are using, actions you are taking, or the way you are communicating your needs. Sometimes, negative emotions are a reactions to the conflict between our beliefs and reality.
While we label certain emotions negative, it is important to acknowledge that all emotions are completely normal to experience. Where positive emotions signal that all is well in our immediate environment, negative emotions alert us to things that are not quite right, that there are challenges and signal at things that require our more focused attention.While understanding they are a healthy part of life, there is a downside to giving them too much reign.
Positive nature of our negative emotions
Our emotions are often a support system or a call to action. Same is the case with some of our unpleasant emotional experiences. If we suppress or try to drive them out, without considering or ignoring the message they are trying to give us, we end up creating more negative emotional patterns, and indulge into unproductive and unhealthy choices. So, it is important to understand the positive nature of our emotions. Here are positive aspects of some of our negative emotions.
• FEAR includes feelings of concern, worry, fright and anxiety. It arises because of something unknown or in anticipation that something that’s going to happen. Most of us either try to deny our fear or wallow in it as we consider it negative, but it can be an indication that we need to either prepare to cope with a situation or must do something to change it. It warns us about potential dangers, unexpected obstacles or failures. A way to deal with it is to figure out what actions you need to take to deal with the situation.
• ANXIETY is often seen as a negative emotion, but it’s necessary one to spur us to action. Since it impairs our judgment and our ability to act, it’s important to keep it in check as prolonged anxiety can impair our cognitive functioning. Anxiety encourages new ways of approaching problems and challenges. Instead of feeling anxious, you can try new approaches in seeking solutions.
• HURT is one emotion that dominates most of our personal or professional relationships. When we feel hurt either we lash out at others or act impulsively. Many times this arises by a sense of loss or someone didn’t keep their word or due to loss of trust. It is an indication that your expectations have not been met.
• ANGER includes feelings of resentment or rage and is an indication that something unfair has happened, or that someone has wronged us. What we can do about the situation can include assertive communication, problem-solving, forgiveness or other options. It helps us to know that there is something that is to be addressed and encourages you to seek out active behaviours to address scenarios or people you’ve found problematic.
• SADNESS includes feelings of disappointment, dampened motivation or depression. We feel sad because of an unmet goal or when we are dissatisfied with our achievements or because of the behaviour of someone else around us. But it can help us pay more attention to detail of why this may be, and shows us what we care about most. It also indicates to us that we are passionate about something and can act as a motivation to pursue change.
• GUILT includes feelings of regret and remorse. Most of us try to avoid or wallow in it and begin to experience helplessness. Some people try to deal with their guilt by denying and suppressing it. But it is an indicator that you have violated one of your own highest standard and acts as your moral compass to avoid such old behaviours.
• DESPAIR includes feelings of unworthiness or inadequacy. We experience this when we try to achieve a certain task or goal multiple times and not succeeded or when we aren’t getting the results we want. But it also can be a useful reminder that you don’t presently have a necessary skill for the task at hand and can be a motivator to learn or gather tools, strategies or confidence.
• OVERWHELM happens when you feel that nothing can change the situation, that the problem is too big or pervasive. When we perceive that there is more going on than we can possibly deal with, things may seem overwhelming to deal with. Instead of dealing with too many things at once, you can reevaluate and recognise the need to prioritise.
• FRUSTRATION. When we come across an obstacle, where we are continuously putting out effort but not receiving rewards, we tend to feel the emotion of frustration. The positive aspect of this emotion is that the solution to your problem is within range and you cold be doing better than you currently are. The possible action you ca take is change your approach or become flexible.
Why is emotional awareness important
Negative emotional patterns sabotage our efforts to succeed, harm personal or professional relationships and tend to undermine self-worth. Also, dwelling on our negative emotions for long takes us into spiral rumination. Thinking, replaying, or obsessing over negative situations and experiences increases your stress response and leads to harmful coping behaviours such as overeating, insomnia, anxiety or depression. This can further deplete your cognitive ability to problem solve proactively.
Sometimes difficult experiences incite different emotional reactions, to differing degree of intensity, like for instance, from the experience of fear we make an inhibition, a phobia or constant alert to possible dangers. It’s normal for us to want to move away from such emotions, But magnifying them or allowing them to take control of our choices, decisions or actions would be harmful to our psychological and mental well-being. Some people go to great lengths to avoid or suppress emotional discomfort by indulging themselves into unhelpful or unhealthy habits and behaviours where they end up feeling bad on a regular basis and get truly trapped into self-sabotaging behaviours.
Lack of emotional awareness leads us into believing that experiencing certain emotions are a sign of weakness or low emotional intelligence. And hiding away from them can lead to more emotional distress. So, it is important to be aware of your negative emotional patterns in order to tap into your true potential, seize opportunities and follow your passions.
Through emotional awareness,
• You can reduce the intensity of your negative emotions and are less likely to be judgmental.
• It helps you guard you from negativity bias by improving your decision-making process.
• It helps you become supportive in relationships and enables you to build trust.
• When we experience a full range of emotions in response to rapidly changing situations, understanding their purpose enhances your emotional intelligence.
• Knowing the purpose, you learn new ways to respond and this can lead to personal growth and well-being.
So, How to gain control over your negative emotions
Since we are the source of our emotions, our perceptions are often controlled by what we focus on and the meanings we interpret from them. So, we can always seek to change how we perceive our negative emotional patterns through emotional awareness. Here are some ways to raise your emotional awareness to take control of your negative emotional patterns.
Identify and label your emotion
Before you can manage a negative emotion, you have to first recognise what that emotion is. Often times, certain surface emotions might mask an underlying deeper emotion. For instance, anxiety can mask fear, anger can mask hurt, and so on.
Identify your deeper rooted emotion by asking yourself, “What am I really feeling right now?”To stay mindful, say to yourself, this is anger, this is anxiety. Identifying and labelling what you really feel can lower the intensity even more, which makes it easier to learn the positive from the emotion.
Asking yourself, why am I feeling this way? Where did this emotion coming from ? Or how can I effectively resolve my concern ? allows you to know what the problem is and come up with solutions.
Accept your negative emotions
Acknowledge and accept your emotion of discomfort. Thinking in terms of anything you feel is ‘wrong’ destroys honest communication with yourself and with others. Making it seem wrong will rarely cause it to become less intense. Acknowledging a particular emotion that it is there instead of denying helps you to accept and focus on reframing the situation instead of reacting in a way that is harmful.
Any time you feel disempowering because of a negative emotion, remember it’s positive aspect and take action. Discover what needs to be changed whether your perceptions or your actions. Even if the emotion feels overwhelming, ask yourself, what else could this mean? and what am I willing to do to create a solution and handle my negative emotion?
Reflect to know your emotional triggers
Reflecting on ‘why’ part of your past emotional situations can help you understand the possible triggers of your frequent go-to emotions. Knowing your triggers increase your emotional awareness and help you predict your future behaviour and how you prevent your undesirable emotions. For instance, did you get angrier when your coworker did not respect his deadline? Why do you think you got that angry? Or why didn’t you get angrier? Reflecting on your emotional reactions help you gauge your current situation.
Ask yourself, how was it different from what you expected to be at the moment? Was it because of the negative outcome or was it because of your expectations not being met? How important was it to your goals at that time ? Was it because of you or someone else?
Learn from your past experiences
If your emotion in play in the moment is anger, you can apply your awareness of your past experiences to respond, Ask yourself, “What triggered my emotion in the present?” ‘Is it because of someone else or is it because of my own interpretation of the situation?” If it is because someone else’s misinterpretation of you, may be you did not communicate your needs properly. If it is due to failure of your ability to meet your own standards and rules, you can change your perception or change your procedure or behaviour.
Think back on how a particular emotion affected you physically. A good way to improve your emotional awareness is to be aware of how your body language changed or how you vocalise yourself emotions. Do you for instance, raise your voice when you are angry or do you become silent? Knowing will help you control your emotions and refine your external behaviour.
Reframe your thoughts by pressing pause
Our beliefs are at the core of our deepest emotions. We experience negative emotions because of something or someone else has or hadn’t done. May be our expectations weren’t met or we get angry with ourselves because we didn’t meet our own expectations. Reframe your thoughts and practice viewing it in different perspective. For instance, even though candor in workplace is valuable, not every thought should be voiced immediately. Instead understand the power of taking a pause and consider information before responding to negative situations.
When you give yourself a moment to pause, you prevent saying something you will later regret. Take time to gain clarity and calmly decide how to proceed. Ask yourself, does this need to be said? Does this need to be said by me? Does this need to be said by me now? Instead of speaking your mind, press pause.
Be curious to come up with a positive action
Negative emotions are actionable and explore them with openness and curiosity. Instead of avoiding the emotion, get curious on what you need to do right now to make things better. For instance, if guilt surfaces, acknowledge the emotion and commit yourself not to repeat your past behaviour.
If the emotion is loneliness, reach out more and connect with people. Uncertainty, misery and the fear of rejection comes from learning new things, caring for others, and stepping into unknown. If it is fearful emotion, figure out what actions you need to take to deal with the situation in best possible way. If it is hurtful emotion, try to communicate your feelings appropriately to the person involved. If it is disappointment, set a new goal, something that is even more inspiring and something you can make immediate progress toward. If it is inadequacy, change the way you are perceiving your true self and decide to commit to improving yourself.
Space for self-reflection
How do you deal with your negative emotional patterns – avoid, deny, suppress or react?
How often do you let your negative emotions take control of your life?
Are you aware of your negative emotions?
Which areas of your life can you benefit by not giving into your negative emotions?
Do you make decisions with an emotional mind or rational mind?
How do you handle emotional reactions of other people?
Do you need to change what you believe about negative emotions?
What can you change about your emotions next time around – your perceptions, response, behaviour or actions ?
With every emotion that you experience, you get to choose how you will respond. The more you learn to be aware of your emotional states, the better you will be at managing them. Remember that emotions are going to come, but you always have a choice on how to react to those emotions. The key is to develop emotional awareness and to recognise that you are in charge and not your emotions. Just build these ideas into the context of your day to day life to raise your emotional awareness so as to better control your negative emotions.
Be mindful of your emotional experiences and bring your focus to your mind and body and as to what a particular negative emotion is creating within you. Take the time to really observe your reactions without ignoring them, repressing them, or over exaggerating them. Trust your emotions that come into your awareness, knowing that even though you don’t understand them at the moment, each and every emotion is there to a call to action.
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