You have to learn to face negative emotions, not evade them. Because those who avoid them are unhappy and stressed. Find out how to embrace negative emotions.
We all carry around our negative emotions in a secret bag.
And we are always facing situations making us open that bag.
There’s a lot in this world to trigger us into opening that bag: personal trauma, work stress, emotional abuse, losing a close person, family conditions, poverty, and job loss.
But whenever we open it, it’s never one emotion, but many that tumble out together. And each brings its own bit of hurt.
Negative emotions hurt us, of course, but even happiness can hurt.
In the USA, more than 22 million people have anger issues.
In the UK, 65% of people express anger over the phone, 26% in writing, and 9% in face-to-face interaction. And that’s just one negative emotion – anger – we’re talking about.
Emotions appear as fleeting states that grab one of our fingers and point it to the event causing it.
What Are Negative Emotions
Negative emotions are feelings that make us miserable, uncomfortable, and unhappy. They can damage our self-esteem and self-love, generate envy and grudge, and lower our optimism and life satisfaction.
However, they have a useful purpose – they serve to help us survive. So, it’s not healthy to suppress or ignore our negative emotions.
How To Embrace Your Negative Emotions
We can learn to cope with negative emotions in a positive way. We have to start seeing that all of our emotions, even negative ones, are part of being human.
They are not inherently good or bad; they just are. They act as markers, giving us insight into our current state of being or our reaction to a particular situation.
Here are 7 step-by-step strategies to handle negative emotions:
Step 1. Increase your awareness of the negative emotions rising
Recognizing your negative emotions early is like knowing a storm is coming and handling the situation safely before it can harm you.
These are some ways to become aware of your negative emotions:
• Notice the physical cues: When a negative emotion starts, you often feel physical sensations.
These could be a tightening in your chest, a knot in your stomach, or a rush of heat to your face. Paying attention to physical cues can help you identify when a negative emotion is starting to surface.
Noticing your unpleasant feelings is not being judgmental. It’s about noticing them.
It means you’re giving yourself permission to feel what you’re feeling without trying to justify, rationalize, or dismiss it.
• Register the emotional trigger: Emotional awareness involves recognizing, understanding, and remembering what triggered the negative emotion.
“What’s causing me to have this emotion? Is it something someone said? A certain situation? A memory?”
Understanding your trigger helps you reach down to the root cause. Remembering the trigger helps you know how to handle it the next time.
• Label the negative emotion: Once you’ve recognized the presence of a negative emotion, take a moment to name it or label it.
Are you feeling angry? Sad? Frustrated? Anxious?
Naming the emotion can help you take a step back (“cognitive distancing”). It helps you see your negative thoughts and emotions without getting caught up in them.
It’s a way of telling yourself, “I’m experiencing anger right now,” rather than “I am angry.”
This subtle shift in language tells your mind, “I am not my negative emotion, but I’m having an emotion.”
It helps you not perceive your difficult emotions as threats and not respond to them with fight-or-flight.
Step 2: Remodel your negative emotions as uneasy feelings
Often, we view negative emotions as destructive forces that threaten our peace and happiness.
However, this perspective can intensify our emotional distress and make it more difficult to manage these feelings effectively.
Instead, consider remodeling your negative emotions as uneasy feelings.
This doesn’t mean you minimize or dismiss them. Rather, it means you realize these emotions are temporary and you can handle them.
You could tell yourself, “This is not a permanent state, but a transient uneasy experience that will pass.”
Think of negative emotions as waves in the ocean. They rise, they peak, and then they recede. Sometimes they’re small and gentle, other times they’re large and powerful.
But no matter how big or intense they are, they always pass. They’re part of the natural ebb and flow of our emotional landscape.
By remodeling negative emotions as uneasy feelings, we can approach them with a sense of acceptance rather than fear or resistance. This acceptance allows us to:
- See where they are signaling us: Negative emotions often arise in response to specific triggers or situations. By accepting these emotions, we can better identify these triggers and understand why they affect us the way they do.
- Grasp the messages they are trying to convey: Every emotion carries a message. Fear might be telling us to be cautious. Anger might be signaling a boundary violation. Sadness might be a sign of loss or disappointment. By accepting our negative emotions, we can tune into these messages and learn from them.
- Take reasonable, relevant action: Once we understand the message behind our negative emotions, we can decide how to respond. This might involve setting boundaries, seeking support, or making changes in our lives.
- Let them go after they have served us: Once a negative emotion has delivered its message and we’ve responded accordingly, we can let it go. This doesn’t mean forcing the emotion away, but rather allowing it to recede naturally, just like a wave in the ocean.
Remodeling negative emotions as uneasy feelings is not denying or suppressing them.
It means you’re changing your relationship with them, so you can tackle them better and use them for self-discovery and growth.
3. Accept the experience and importance of your negative emotion
The third step is to accept the importance of its existence and to allow yourself to feel it fully.
This involves giving yourself permission to experience your emotions in their entirety, without getting carried away, judging yourself, or resisting the emotional wash-over.
Acceptance doesn’t mean that you enjoy or desire these negative emotions. You’re just accepting their presence and validity.
Each negative emotion, like all emotions, has a purpose and a message for us. They give us valuable insights into our inner world and our interactions with the outside world.
“I accept my negative emotions as valid messengers. Now that they are here, I can simply allow them to be present without worrying about them, trying to hide myself, or throwing them out.”
When we give ourselves permission to feel our negative emotions, we allow ourselves to experience the full range of the human emotional spectrum.
Psychologist Carl Rogers said, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
It beautifully encapsulates the essence of embracing negative emotions. It’s through acceptance, not resistance, that we find the strength to grow and evolve.
Feeling our emotions fully means allowing them to wash over us, to take up space within us, and to impact us as they naturally would.
For instance, if we feel a surge of embarrassment over a past mistake, we allow ourselves to feel that embarrassment in its entirety. Don’t try to push it away, ignore it, or replace it with some positive emotion. Instead, we let it be, and we let it move through us.
This might seem counterintuitive, especially when the emotion is uncomfortable or painful.
However, when we try to whisk our emotions away or suppress them, they often come back stronger and more persistent. They continue to resurface until we’ve acknowledged them and allowed them to serve their purpose.
By feeling our emotions fully, we give them a chance to deliver their message. Once they’ve done their job, they no longer need to demand our attention. And they naturally dissipate.
Acceptance is not about resignation or defeat. It’s amor fati — acknowledging reality as it is, rather than reacting to it because it didn’t happen as we wished.
“Don’t seek for everything to happen as you wish it would, but rather wish that everything happens as it actually will—then your life will flow well.”– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
4. Separate the objective experience from the subjective interpretation
The fourth step is separating our experience from our interpretation of it.
This is realizing that our emotional reactions are more about our perceptions and interpretations than the events themselves.
Every experience we have is filtered through our personal lens, shaped by our past experiences, beliefs, values, and biases.
We don’t just react to the situation but also attach our interpretation of it.
For example, you might not just feel regret for a mistake, but also shame or embarrassment based on your interpretation of what that mistake says about you.
Truth is, a mistake doesn’t make you a bad or unworthy person. It simply means you’re human and, like all humans, are allowed to make mistakes.
Our interpretations can often amplify our negative emotions, causing us more distress than the situation warrants.
We might castigate ourselves for our mistakes, replay them in our minds, and magnify their significance. This can lead to a cycle of overthinking that’s hard to break.
Separating the objective experience from our subjective interpretation means stepping back and looking at the situation as it is, without any layer of judgment or interpretation.
It’s seeing the facts rather than the story we’ve built around it. It reduces the weight of your negative emotions.
You realize your mistakes and flaws do not define you or dictate your emotional state. You start to see your experiences with more self-compassion.
“Today I escaped from anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions — not outside.”– Marcus Aurelius, The Philosopher King & Stoic master
5. Explore the experience with curiosity, and find out the reason for their presence
The fifth step in embracing negative emotions is to approach them with curiosity.
This involves shifting our mindset from one of judgment or fear to one of interest and exploration. It’s about viewing our negative emotions not as threats, but as opportunities for learning and growth.
Curiosity is a quality we often associate with childhood. As children, we’re naturally curious. We’re eager to explore the world around us, to ask questions, and to seek answers.
However, as we grow older, we often lose this sense of curiosity, especially when it comes to our own emotions.
Yet, curiosity can be a powerful tool in understanding and managing our negative emotions. When a negative emotion arises, instead of reacting to it with resistance or judgment, we can choose to explore it.
You can ask yourself: “Why is this emotion here? What triggered it? What is it trying to tell me? Is it a specific situation or event? Is it related to a particular thought or belief?”
Asking these questions about your anxiousness might uncover its root cause and see better how to address it.
Your curiosity can also help you uncover what your negative emotions need from you.
Perhaps your anxiety needs you to slow down and take a few deep breaths. Maybe your anger needs you to set a boundary or express a need. Once we have noticed what they’re asking of us, they naturally dissipate.
Curiosity, however, is not about finding a solution or fixing a problem. It’s about gaining insight and approaching our emotions with an open mind and a willingness to learn.
Curiosity can transform our relationship with our negative emotions and use them as guides on our personal growth path.
6. Be mindful of the various ways it evokes changes in the body
The sixth step in embracing negative emotions is to be mindful.
Mindfulness is being fully present in the moment, observing our experiences, thoughts, and feelings without judgment. It’s fixing our attention on what’s happening within us and around us, just as it is.
When it comes to negative emotions, mindfulness encourages us to notice how these emotions manifest in our bodies. We notice the knot in our stomach when we’re anxious. We notice an increase in our heart rate when we’re angry.
Mindfulness also teaches us to observe our emotions without getting caught up in them.
We look at our feelings as visitors who are passing through our emotional landscape, rather than taking them as part of who we are.
This can help us respond to our negative emotions in a more unattached and measured way, rather than reacting impulsively.
Mindfulness allows us to release our emotions when they’ve served their purpose. This helps maintain a sense of calm and balance even in the face of negative events.
Mindfulness is a powerful tool for emotional resilience and well-being. You can learn to practice it with this compact guide (with PDF) to Mindfulness For Beginners In 7 Steps.
7. Challenge your negative thoughts and raise your frustration tolerance
The final step in embracing negative emotions is to challenge the negative thoughts that fuel your negative emotions and build your capacity to endure discomfort.
Negative thoughts often amplify our emotional distress. They can create a narrative that reinforces our negative emotions and makes them seem more overwhelming than they truly are.
But when we challenge them, we can change our emotional response.
Ask yourself: Is this thought accurate? Is it helpful? What’s another way to view this situation?
Raising our frustration tolerance means increasing our ability to withstand uncomfortable emotions.
It’s about learning to sit with uncomfortable feelings, even when they’re difficult or intense.
It’s about understanding that we can go through discomfort without being consumed by it. It’s about building our emotional resilience.
Moving out of your comfort zone is one way to increase your frustration tolerance. When you do things that are challenging, you are essentially training your mind and body to be more resilient in the face of frustration.
- Try a new hobby or activity. From learning to play a musical instrument to taking a dance class.
- Challenge yourself at work. Ask for more responsibility, or volunteer for a tough project.
- Explore uncomfortable situations. Talk to a stranger, try exotic food, or go on a solo-trip.
- Set “stretch goals.” Goals that stretch you (that is, they are challenging but achievable with extra effort) will help you learn new ways to deal with setbacks and disappointments.
- Use positive self-talk. Try talking to yourself in a positive way, like you’re talking to your best friend in a stressful situation. Assure yourself that you can handle the situation, and you will come through stronger.
- Take breaks. Everyone needs breaks, no matter how much they love their work and their job. When you feel overwhelmed, listen to your body’s distress signals. Go for a walk, plan and go on a vacation, listen to music, or do something else that you enjoy.
- Seek professional help. When nothing seems to help, seek professional help. A therapist can help you develop coping mechanisms for your negative emotions.
3 Scientific Models To Handle Negative Emotions
Now, let’s dive into how to handle our negative emotions using 3 science-backed models here:
- Awareness & Acceptance
- The CESS Method
- TEARS of HOPE Model
1. Awareness & Acceptance
We can’t choose the emotions we experience. But if we’re aware of their motive and accept their existence, we can receive our negative emotions with grace.
We can choose the ways we respond to them through awareness. And then embrace them through non-judgmental acceptance.
Emotions often have triggers. Mark those triggers early on when you know an emotion may flare up. Stay sharp to spot them as soon as they start to rise in you. This is emotional awareness.
Awareness of emotional impulses doesn’t come naturally to us. Because of the way we evolved, we find it easier to react to a trigger, rather than respond after a space of wait.
Organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich found 95% of people think they’re self-aware, but only 10-15% truly are. She quotes the three reasons behind this:
- we operate on autopilot, unaware of why and how we’re behaving
- we’re happier when we see ourselves in a more positive light
- we’ve got absorbed into a “cult of self” in these times of social media
Paul Ekman, the topmost expert on micro-expressions, says we need hard and consistent practice to become aware of any emotion-driven impulses before we take action.
But once we start to recognize and anticipate the hot triggers that push our buttons, you’re one step ahead of them. The impulses do not control you, but you control them now.
Mindfulness is one great way to learn this emotional awareness. Mindfulness can change our relationship with negative emotions, by letting us experience them without judgment, guilt, or shame.
When bad things happen, it is better to let the negative emotions have their run. Accepting their presence, instead of trying to avoid them, is the best way to handle them.
It turns out that how we approach our own negative emotional reactions is really important for our overall well-being. People who accept these emotions without judging or trying to change them are able to cope with their stress more successfully.— Prof. Brett Ford
Research shows that people who accept their negative emotions get fewer negative emotions. And this effect lasted until 6 months later.
But those who avoid their negative emotions, end up having more negative emotions, anxiety, and depression.
So, the first right way to embrace our negative emotions is to be aware of them. Then accept them as they are, with gentle attention, but without judging them.
2. The CESS Method
This is a simple 4-step process to help you embrace your negative emotions you can use by yourself.
- C — Call it
- E — Ease it
- S — Study it
- S — Stand it
• C — Call It. Call your emotion by its name, invite it inside, and give it space.
For example, say, “Hey stress!” Actually, it is already a part of who you are, so why not allow it to be here? Just say hello to its presence and give it a free pass to flow through you.
• E — Ease It. Make it easy for the negative feeling to bring about physical changes in you. Let it move around your body.
Follow its path of exploration through your body. Let it hurt you wherever it wants to. Then find the places where it hurts the most, put your hand on each spot, and ease its agony with compassion.
• S — Study It. Ask yourself why is this emotion here and what is it trying to tell you. Try to put into words how does it feel, look, and sound. Is it one feeling, or are there others in the layers underneath? Try to study it intimately, and know all about it.
• S — Stand (Up To) It. Finally, after you’ve understood its motive, show boldness and take action. Does it want you to show more self-compassion?
Does it want you to forgive yourself? Does it want you to do some joyful activity? Do the activity that you judge as the most rational. This will release it. After all, emotions are temporary, fleeting passions.
3. TEARS of HOPE Model
It summarizes the 9 different ways the coaches can use to approach handling negative emotions. This needs a coach.
- T — Teach and Learn
- E — Express and Enable
- A — Accept and Befriend
- R — Re-appraise and Re-frame
- S — Social-support
- H — Hedonic Wellbeing or Happiness
- O — Observe and Attend To
- P — Physiology and Behavioral Changes
- E — Eudaimonia
• T — Teach and Learn: This asks us to enhance self-awareness and knowledge of our body and mind. It helps us to comprehend why we have a panic attack, or why we get depressed.
• E — Express and Enable: It encourages us to stay open and curious, and remain mindful of what is happening in our body. It also asks us to increase the acceptance level of what is yet to come. Storytelling and expressive writing can be a part of it.
• A — Accept and Befriend: This asks to raise self-compassion and tolerance for frustration and discomfort. It’s about encouraging self-acceptance and being friends with challenging emotions.
• R — Re-appraise and Re-frame: Here, the client is to positively re-frame their experiences. One can use the CBT approaches as Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) and Multimodal Therapy (MMT).
• S — Social support: This involves the practice of loving-kindness meditation. This can expand the feelings of connection to others and their self-compassion.
• H — Hedonic Wellbeing or Happiness: This asks us to focus on the positive aspects of our life, like happy memories and success stories. This uses the broaden-and-build theory of ‘positive’ emotions.
• O — Observe and Attend To: This suggests we practice mindfulness meditation, and try to be non-judgmental in life.
• P — Physiology and Behavioral Changes: It asks to practice breathing techniques, relaxation and self-care exercises.
• E — Eudaimonia: It is a term that comes from Greek philosophy. It is more than “happiness,” and recommends we strive for meaningful goals in life, and be good and authentic.
Unhealthy Ways To Handle Negative Emotions
Many of us find it hard to deal with negative emotions like fear, grief, and stress. The reason is it is often seen as a social stigma to acknowledge we suffer from our “unhappy” emotions.
First of all, managing negative emotions requires we do not do these things — • we do not deny having them; • we do not avoid feeling them; • we do not get buried by them; and • we do not keep holding them.
Often, those who admit they’re suffering from negative emotions, often get the following two wrong pieces of advice:
- Just become happier
- Avoid negative feelings
1. “Just Become Happier” Doesn’t Work
It is wrong to ignore the dark sides of human experience and only promote positivity, as this could lead to the “tyranny of the positive attitude.”
Held, who gave the above theory, speculated asking a person to work only on their positive emotions can make them feel guilty if they could not pull off a positive attitude.
2. “Avoid Negative Feelings” Doesn’t Work
Avoiding negative states is one piece of advice that’s fraught with dangers.
A key message within psychotherapy since the time of Freud (1961) is that distress and illness can stem from suppressing difficult emotions.
Recent research by Gross and John showed suppressing negative emotions can lead to more negative emotions. The study also found those who suppress their negative feelings felt less satisfied with life, had lower self-esteem, and were less optimistic.
Here we take up some of what you need to know about your negative emotions, and how to handle them in a positive way.
How Useful Are Our Negative Emotions
We know our negative emotions can take us on a downward spiral when we cling to them for long. So, if we were to hold on to our blues or sadness, it could spiral us down into severe depression.
And when negative emotions overrun us, we tend to see and remember only the negative parts of our lives. This stretches those emotions and stops us from seeing the happier side of life.
So, where’s the usefulness of our negative emotions?
It’s this: We start with the idea that a negative emotion, above all, isn’t negative. Then it gets easier to let it sink in that they are just pointers to things happening under-surface.
- Jealousy could be tipping us we’re wasting much of our time comparing ourselves with others.
- Anger might be pointing out that the wellbeing of ours or our close ones is under grave threat.
- Anxiety could be telling us we need a strong and far-reaching change in our behavior.
- Fear in our mind could be letting us know we need to move to a place of greater safety.
- Frustration or resentment might be asking us to change our stance in a relationship.
The negative emotions act as signals, just as positive emotions do.
They try to tell us something in our system (or our surroundings) is chafing us. The next time you get agitated or sad, remember you are experiencing that emotion to your benefit.
The truth is our negative emotions are a wholesome part of our lives. We can’t survive long and in full health without them.
In fact, research on aging and longevity shows psychological elements that verge on emotions are more important predictors of a long and healthy life than other factors such as diet and activeness.
- Research makes it clear our feelings and emotions are often not directly responsible for our health disorders and sicknesses if we take action on them. Rather, it is either our avoidance of them or our prolonged repression of emotions and feelings that create the ground for the diseases to appear.
- On the flip side, however, the free and unbroken expression of emotion has clear and long-lasting benefits for physical and mental health and general well-being.
Remember, our difficult emotions are just transient phases that will sooner or later give way to better moments in time. So, we must not give in or get around them, but rather embrace them.
And the more we choose to accept them, the better we become at handling them.
Do Negative Emotions Have A Positive Side
To tell you the truth, there is no such thing as a negative emotion. Emotions are not born good or bad.
Though they affect us both psychologically and biologically, in fact, they are natural and neutral. What emotions do to us depends on how we let them affect us, and how we choose to express them. Emotions exist to put us into motion.
• Emotion = E + motion
Emotions are a process, a particular kind of automatic appraisal influenced by our evolutionary and personal past, in which we sense that something important to our welfare is occurring, and a set of psychological changes and emotional behaviors begins to deal with the situation.— Paul Ekman, PhD
Our so-called negative emotions, in themselves, aren’t actually negative. Rather, they point to some negative or not-so-happy events happening around us.
Emotions appear as a fleeting state that grabs one of our fingers and points it to the event causing it. And when it points to a negative event, we call it a negative emotion.
All our emotions, including the negative ones, exist for a reason. They arrive to get us motivated to either indulge more in or move away from, a certain experience. They are useful for our survival and growth. So, negative emotions indeed have positive sides.
Researchers from Olin University showed experiencing happiness alongside sadness was a predictor of improvements in psychological well-being.
It seems that there is something to be gained for your mental health in taking both the good and the bad together.— Jonathan M. Adler, PhD
Here are 3 takeaways:
- Negative Emotions Are Visitors: Negative emotions are not threats, but messengers. Listen to them, learn, and let go when their purpose is served.
- Acceptance Without Judgment: Recognize and accept your negative emotions without judging them or criticizing yourself. With practice, this becomes intuitive.
- Embrace Negative Emotions For Personal Growth: Embracing uneasy emotions helps self-discovery, resourcefulness, and resilience, guiding you toward a more authentic life.
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Author Bio: Researched and reviewed by Dr. Sandip Roy — a medical doctor and psychology writer, with a unique focus on mental well-being, positive psychology, narcissism, and Stoicism. His empathic expertise has helped many mental abuse survivors find happiness again. Co-author of ‘Critique of Positive Psychology and Positive Interventions’.
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