Turn Negative Emotions into Something Positive
Negative emotions can take a number of forms including anger, anxiety and jealousy, and are linked with behaviours such as eating disorders, substance abuse, obsessions, self-harm and violent outbursts. Although negative emotions might be surprising and unwelcome, they occur for a good reason – usually one of our fundamental needs is unmet. These can include physical needs, for example adequate diet, quality sleep, and emotional ones such as social interaction, privacy, self-determination and sense of achievement. Neglect of emotional needs is likely to result in negative feelings.
Understanding why the negative emotion has arisen, by identifying which of our needs are not met, is important to help manage it and restore balance. Suppressing emotions is unhelpful and if our needs remain unattended, they will find another way of expressing their demands, often through physical illness or emotional flooding. Negative emotions are inevitable and in fact useful because they signal to us that something is lacking.
Rather than letting our negative emotions take over (and cause us further difficulty) the aim is to treat them as flags to help us redress what is missing. Even in cases where we seem unable to change the facts, we can still find healthy ways of looking after ourselves.
Anger: Pause, Reflect and Deal Rationally with the Source
Anger commonly arises when we are over-worked, deprived of leisure time or when we feel our security, privacy and sense of control are in jeopardy. If anger is becoming more common for women, then perhaps it is because the increasing pressure of balancing family life and career is taking a toll on our self-care. Although we can rapidly tame our anger through relaxation methods, it will prove more effective if we can also work on the roots of it. This involves taking a look at how we’ve become over-stretched and what we need to reclaim for ourselves.
Anger can be looked at from a positive slant initially. As with all other strong emotions, it is a message to us that something needs to be addressed. So whilst anger is often unwelcome, the intention behind it can be quite positive. Just as touching a hot iron gives us an instant physical sensation, our feelings of anger are helpful in warning us that something is amiss or a threat to our wellbeing. Additionally, anger generates a lot of energy and in many cases anger is displaced – the target of your anger is often a substitute for the real source (e.g cursing at the bus driver when we are upset with our partner). Displays of anger cannot be condoned by the fact that there may be some personal needs that are unmet – we still need to take responsibility to prevent displays of anger. In some cases the energy produced by angry emotions can be channeled in healthier formats such as a spate of productive work or physical exercise. However, we need to be careful that such activities do not contribute to an unhealthy lifestyle.
In learning to manage our anger, we can start by being kind on ourselves; rather than being self-critical, we learn to view our emotions as helpful guideposts. Whist angry feelings are permissible, angry, violent behaviour is not. A common way to contain our angry reactions is through taking a pause, reflecting, logically dealing with the source and consider discharging any excess energy in beneficial directions.
Shyness & Social Anxiety: Embrace it
Shyness and introversion are not so much negative emotions as personality traits. Social anxiety, on the other hand is an emotion which usually arises because we are lacking something – perhaps a sense of competence, status or achievement. Social anxiety is certainly on the increase, and this might be because of the escalating pressure to perform and achieve. As expectations are elevated (for example the expectation that women should be both excellent homemakers and career-driven), we feel we can’t quite match up to the benchmark. This can trigger or exacerbate anxiety.
People who are shy or suffer from social anxiety often say they would give anything to become naturally extroverted. In truth, shyness is a wonderful quality and is often associated with good listening skills and empathy. Many people prefer gentle characters to loud and brash ones. To turn shyness into a positive quality, it is helpful to acknowledge what an admirable feature it can be. Think about some inspiring and successful figures who are introverted, for example Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg, Harrison Ford, Julia Roberts and Gwyneth Paltrow. Shyness is to be embraced. It only is a negative quality when it restricts you from living a full life.
Jealousy & Envy: Use it to Inspire Rather than Consume
Jealousy and envy arise because we feel we are threatened in some way or feel we are under-achieving compared to others. We all have an in-built tendency towards competitiveness. We have a vested interest, for example in making sure our partner does not stray, and an interest in improving ourselves vis-à-vis others. Jealousy and envy can actually be looked at as useful features and can spur us on to achieve more for our emotional selves. We can try use jealousy to stimulate and inspire us, rather than consume and overwhelm us. If we can take jealousy as a helpful signal that something needs attention, we can spare ourselves a lot of further hardship. To use this warning effectively, we only need ask what is missing – are we missing attention, intimacy, social company, sense of purpose? To turn jealously and envy into positive feelings, we should check in on ourselves and make sure we are meeting our needs in the best possible way. Thus, even the most negative of feelings can shine a light for us.
By Dr +Sheri Jacobson, Psychotherapist. MBACP.
If you would like help from a therapist on negative emotions, contact Harley Therapy – Psychotherapy & Counseling London who can refer you to an anxiety counsellor, anger management therapist, or counselling psychologist to help with issues such as anger, jealousy, envy and shyness.