No one enjoys experiencing negative emotions. After all, they’re painful. Our brains are hardwired to seek pleasure and avoid pain. As such, we suppress jealously, envy, shame, embarrassment, guilt, fear and anxiety, berating ourselves for feeling that way. We associate these feelings with weakness, suffering in silence and isolation.
Constructively confronting our negative emotions, without abandoning our emotional selves, can help us achieve crucial life goals and maintain relationships that put us on a happier path. They are signals that something is wrong, urging us to make the sort of changes that save us from self-destructive behaviors.
Here are the four most common negative emotions, along with ways to constructively confront them.
Anger. When we’re insulted, undervalued, taken advantage of, or disrespected, our heart rate quickens, we sweat more, have difficulty expressing our thoughts, and our rational capacities quickly go out the window. Swallowing anger isn’t helpful and can lead to depression and physical illness.
Tip: Asserting ourselves in a rational fashion when angered affords the chance to regain self-respect. It’s a signal to others that we have strength, resources and resolve.
Disappointment. Experiencing disappointment is essential for development and growth. If we deny those feelings, we won’t have the motivation to grow, change and explore.
Tip: Give yourself permission to feel sad and mourn. Then adjust your expectations and create goals that are realistic and achievable. If your expectations are in line with your goals, you won’t be disappointed as often.
Fear. We react to fear with an innate fight-or-flight response crucial to our survival. Sometimes, though, our anticipated fears are imagined. Regular false alarms can become irrational fears, which underlie most anxiety disorders.
Tip: It’s imperative to decipher whether your fears are rational or irrational, but that can be difficult when we’re in fight-or-flight mode. Find a relaxation strategy that works for you (deep breathing, visualization, etc.). Once you bring your emotional temperature down, you’ll be in a better place to decipher which fears are truly worthy of your full attention.
Guilt. When we examine our guilty feelings, we learn from our mistakes. On a larger scale, guilt helps us to function as a civilized society. It’s our moral and ethical compass.
Tip: Learn to accept that you will make mistakes—we all do. A healthy dose of guilt often ensures that we don’t make the same mistake twice. But it’s important to let go after taking the steps to repair the mistake. Not doing so contributes to depression and low self-esteem, inhibiting us from learning from mistakes.