Learning from negative emotions

What are your negative emotions trying to teach you?

Written by Vicky Downey


For many people, we tend to distance ourselves or become fearful of anything that deems to have a negative effect on us. However, like pretty much everything in life, there is always a brighter side, all that matters is how you perceive it. Therefore, in this article, I aim to discuss why it is I believe negative emotions and feelings contain some positive element. Particularly, negative emotions are a great tool to learn more about yourself, challenge yourself and even enhance your personal development.

Negative emotions include sadness, anger, fear, anxiousness, guilt and so on. I'll start of by suggesting that these emotions tend to be considered negative due to the behaviour that they entail. For instance, anger can often entail shouting and violence and with fear tends to follow individuals distancing themselves from things or people that make them feel uncomfortable or unsafe. So, we're constantly exposed to the negative, undesirable aspect of these emotions and its only understandable why people want to avoid feeling a certain way in order to protect their well-being.

However, for me I've recently became quite mindful of how it is I'm feeling and rooting for an explanation as to why I feel the way I do. I've gradually learnt to allow my emotions to just flow without pushing them away completely. In other words, I think it's vital to learn to work with your emotions rather than against them. In the sense that, treat negative emotions as friends rather than enemies, after all you're only human and you're entitled to feel the way you do. For example, many people, like myself don't enjoy feeling anxious. The rush through your body, the feeling of being on edge, racing thoughts, missing out on sleep and so forth is definitely something no person enjoys experiencing. Yet the positive thing about feeling anxious is that it can help you to some extent.

Perhaps keeping track of when anxious feelings surface allows you to become aware of any patterns that could be taking place. Such that, if you're one to feel a bolt of anxiety in the morning, become aware of that feeling for a moment and maybe use it as an edge for something else to help yourself, like investing some time for a short mediation every morning or a walk with a friend. By doing so, you're actually facing your fear of anxiety and instead using it is a benefit to engage more in self-care for the future and gradually as time passes you will feel a bit better. Similarly, feelings of guilt can actually be a good sign to get to know yourself better. For example, if you feel guilty about not doing enough study for an upcoming exam, it very often shows that you do care about that exam and you feel you could have invested your time more wisely. My suggestion is that you could use that guilt to push yourself to be more productive. Maybe, sketch out a plan of what you want to study that day and tick it off as you go along, or perhaps visualise yourself sitting in the exam hall ready to start the exam. By doing so you've turned the negative side of guilt in to a positive one.

Overall, negative emotions may not be pleasant to experience but I view them as completely natural and often enough they carry hidden messages waiting to be transformed into a lesson. If negative emotions are haunting you, it's usually a sign that something needs to change. Whether it be to look after yourself more, adjust some part of yourself or even to work harder, negative emotions can be a great learning tool. That's not to say I don't think individuals going through a consistent unbalance of emotions shouldn't seek professional help but for me it's a personal choice and I usually don't depend on anything or anyone to change how I feel but this coping strategy is of course not for everyone. Rather I'm a firm believer in the only person who can change your mind is yourself.

In my opinion, every individual can take productive steps to looking after their own well-being. Whether this be through mindfulness, exercise, meditation, reading self-help books or talking with a friend, you're undoubtedly enhancing your self-development for the better. My advice for anyone feeling a bubble of emotions, develop techniques to help you manage these emotions, such as breathing techniques, healthy distractions, spending some time alone and so forth can often be a great coping mechanism to gain some clarity of a situation and your feelings. So, remember, with every negative emotion, usually comes a benefit and the goal is to look for it. Sometimes you just have to appreciate where you are. You've come along way and you're still learning and growing. Be grateful for the lessons.

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