We’re all having unwanted reactions when we’re experiencing negative emotions. We get mad, we cry, we yell, we throw things around, we become violent – we do all kinds of things we wouldn’t usually do.
While you may want to get rid of all these negative reactions, you may be wondering if you have to give up the negative emotions too. But if you give up the negative emotions, then you’ll have to give away the positive ones too, right?
Don’t worry. It doesn’t work like that.
To better understand this, let’s talk about the structure around negative emotions.
4 elements that define how you feel
We may say that every emotion, negative or positive, has a trigger.
For example, if tomorrow is your wedding, you’ll be really sad if you have an accident today and you can’t dance at your wedding. In this case, the accident is the trigger that generates the negative emotion, which is sadness.
To go even further, for someone who’s in such a situation, how do you think they’ll react? Crying, yelling, throwing things around, and getting mad are just a few of the options.
But just knowing the trigger is not enough.
To better understand the 4 elements, I’ll tell you a short story and try to integrate them inside the story.
You and your best friend are making plans for the summer and plan ahead all the things you’re going to do during August, when you both decided you’ll leave the town and visit Italy. It’s convenient because your best friend’s father is living there.
It’s spring and you have over 10 cities from Italy listed and for every city you have between 5 and 20 landmarks that you want to visit and activities that you want to do. You also have a date when you’re going to leave the town and fly to Italy: 2nd of August.
The spring has passed and it’s July already. One day, your best friend is calling you to tell you that they have already left for Italy because something urgent came up. They can’t talk over the phone but they promise they’re going to explain everything when you’re going to see each other, in Rome, on the 3rd of August.
You start thinking about how your friend (they’re not your best friend anymore) betrayed you and left with someone else. Suddenly, you don’t feel like you want to visit anything anymore. You feel like you can barely get out of bed.
It’s becoming harder and harder to create the energy to even get out of bed. It’s the 20th of June already and you don’t know what to think anymore. Your friend hasn’t called and you don’t want to believe you lost your best friend without even knowing why.
You don’t really like the situation but you don’t want to call your friend. You expect them to call you back and explain what the hell happened. August is here and you don’t really know what to do since your friend hasn’t called yet. You’re looking at your plane ticket and, because of all the uncertainty and the frustration caused by it, you break it into pieces and throw it away.
This is the whole story and I’d like to take a closer look at each of the four elements.
Reality. This is what really happens and we know only a part of it. There’s no situation where we’re able to fully and properly understand reality.
Perception. This is how we look at what happens and we’re using our perception to fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle of reality.
Attachment. This is how we connect with everything that’s part of reality, through our perception.
Expectations. This is the outcome that we’re looking for.
In the previous story, we know that our best friend got a phone call and he had to leave earlier for Italy but we don’t really know why. Therefore, we start imagining things because our perception hates lacking information.
All these four elements are contributing to the negative emotion we’re experiencing.
Now that you have this structure in mind, let’s move to a more important question.
Why do we react to negative emotions?
I understand that my friend betrayed me (or at least that’s what I’m thinking) and it makes me mad, but why do I have to break the plane ticket into pieces?
Because you don’t know what else to do.
We’re living in a world where we’ve been taught to react to every feeling we have.
More than that, when we react to a negative emotion, we believe that we have control over it. If you’re mad and you don’t yell or break something, you feel like the anger is controlling you. But it is only controlling you when you yell or break something. Up until that point it was just a feeling. After you yell or break something, that feeling has control over you because it is making you act.
Yes, it’s the opposite of what society believes.
The more you focus and act on something that you want to go away, the more it will be part of your life.
Want to do a little experiment? Go next to your TV and stare at it. You don’t have to open it, just stare at it. And while you do this, try believing you don’t own a TV.
While that sounds stupid, why do you believe your negative emotions will go away if you keep giving them your attention? As long as you focus on your negative feelings and you think about them, they’re going to be there.
And then, because they’re there, you’re going to do something about it because you want to get rid of them.
Do you realize it now? Do you realize the vicious loop you’re in?
When the negative emotion appears, if you pay attention to it, you’re going to do something about it. Then, whatever you do, you’re going to intensify the emotion. That’s the only thing that will happen. You won’t get rid of it.
Two myths when it comes to getting rid of the negative emotions
If you’re brave enough, let’s do an experiment.
Think of the last negative emotion you’ve experienced and the problem behind it. After you have it clear inside your mind, pick up your phone, call a good friend, and tell them about your negative emotion and problem. Then ask for their advice.
In most cases, one of the two following things will happen:
- They’re going to give you a solution to a problem
- They’re going to ask you questions so you can express your negative emotions
You shouldn’t do any of these two and here’s why.
Why you shouldn’t talk about your negative emotions
Talking about negative emotions is bad for both you and those listening to you, unless you’re talking to your therapist.
As mentioned before, whenever you’re expressing your negative emotions, you’re focusing on them and creating value around them. The more value your negative emotions have, the tougher it will be for you to get them out of your life.
On the other hand, when you’re sharing your negative emotions with someone else, you’re just passing the emotions onto them, without you getting rid of the negative emotions.
Why you shouldn’t look for solutions to your negative emotions
First of all, looking for a solution to your negative emotions requires you to focus on them. Which, as I’ve already explained, won’t help you get rid of the negative emotions.
But more than that, it’s in the nature of the solution you’re looking for to generate new problems.
Imagine living in a small apartment and wanting to buy a bigger apartment or a house. You decide to buy a house because you want more space. You bought the house and one month passed since you’ve bought it. Now you start realizing that it requires a lot of maintenance and you don’t really like it.
While this is just a simple example, it showcases how trying to solve something will generate more problems.
Yes, sometimes it’s good to have problems in your life as they help you evolve. But do you want to go from problem to problem?
How to stop your reactions to negative emotions
There are two things that I recommend doing.
First, let go.
Stop thinking about whatever you’re feeling and try focusing on something else. Be present and don’t let your mind wander. Thinking about the past or future is not good for your mental health.
Second, focus on improvements.
The difference between solutions and improvements is that improvements are forcing you to build on the things you already have.
Let go of any negative emotion you may have and focus on improving your life, not changing it.
With love and optimism,