There has been a lot of discussion on all sides regarding “emotion processing” and how to successfully handle what are coined as “negative emotions.” In the Pixar film “Inside Out,” a few different emotions are cleverly assigned individual personas so that children (and adults) can interact with them in a tangible way.
So what are we to do with negative emotions? Which ones are they? They are broadly defined as sadness, anger, bitterness, greed, hate, jealousy, fear or anything that makes one feel bad about themselves. So when an unsavory emotion surfaces and it starts to cause you guilt, what do you do with it?
If you were to act it out, it would most likely cause more destruction. You wouldn’t, for instance, start calling a person names because you are jealous of something they have acquired that you haven’t. That would be infantile and probably make you feel worse. If you instead neutralize the emotion, allowing yourself to feel it while acknowledging that you have it without denying it, it will end up releasing you from it. The problem exists when we either deny we are experiencing an uncomfortable emotion or we aren’t willing to sit with it to explore where it’s coming from.
When I’m counseling clients who have experienced many negative emotions and don’t seem to become free from them, I ask them to be a neutral observer of themselves while the emotion arises to see what is triggering it. That way you are using mindful awareness without judging yourself to make you feel even more guilty.
You want to accomplish two things with these emotions. First, you need to feel them and acknowledge their presence. Say to yourself, “I’m getting bitter toward this person right now and I’m brave enough to admit that.”
The second thing is to spend some time exploring, without self-judgment but with insight, what might be the “why” behind the emotion. For example, ask yourself what is offending you about this person and the way they are behaving toward you. Is this more about your expectations than their behavior? Be curious and honest with yourself when you explore what is triggering the emotion.
Allow yourself some grace when you are feeling these negative emotions. Be honest with yourself. Search out and feel each emotion as it arises. Then go a step further and search for the root of it, so you can address it using logic and reason.
This is a valuable and safe way to take steps toward reframing what you are thinking and experience fewer negative emotions. You will become more aware of your motives. When you approach yourself in a curious, nonjudgmental and mindful way, you take away the shame and guilt associated with the emotion so that you can feel safe enough to dig further. It’s actually the best gift you can give to yourself. You are choosing to give yourself grace instead of hearing the “voice of the saboteur” as it’s called in many coaching/counseling circles. You silence the voice so that you can explore and become free.