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Understanding and dealing with negative emotions

Expressing feelings, including negative ones, is a big part of the human emotional experience. But, we avoid negative emotions …for four basic, and very intuitive reasons:

  1. They are unpleasant
  2. They represent getting stuck in a rut
  3. They are associated with a loss of personal control
  4. They are perceived (generally correctly!) as having social costs.

That said, we can and do want to deal with these emotions in effective ways. All emotions, positive and negative, can be seen as information for us. (Kashdan & Biswas-Diener, 2014)

Looking at anger as an example, research and experience show that:

  • Anger is a tool that helps us read and respond to upsetting social situations
  • Feeling angry increases optimism, creativity and effective performance
  • Anger may provide some leverage in negotiations
  • Anger can provide courage
  • People are less likely to make strong demands in the face of your anger

An oft-cited example of the power of anger is the civil-rights marches of the 1960s, where the participants derived a powerful sense of motivation from their anger.

And from a different perspective, President Obama has been criticized for not showing anger in certain instances where it would be appropriate, such as the BP oil well spill.

Some additional examples of the benefits of negative emotions:

  • Frustration can lead to increased output and concentration
  • Boredom has been linked to increased creativity
  • Anxiety can lead to increased focus
  • A frown warns people off when you aren’t in the mood (and sometimes you aren’t in the mood)
  • A gasp of fear has a contagious effect such that bystanders also feel a jolt of adrenaline and look around nervously (Kashdan & Biswas-Diener, 2014)
  • Sadness can help us to turn inward to process feelings and personal difficulties
  • Disappointment can lead to trying again with increased attention and resolve

SELF TEST ON NEGATIVE EMOTIONS

  1. Can you name some negative emotions?
  2. Why do you think we have negative emotions?
  3. Which negative emotion(s) do you experience most often?
  4. What circumstances or conditions trigger this emotion for you?
  5. How would you describe yourself as you experience this emotion?
  6. How do you respond to this emotion?
  7. Can you describe some different responses that you could use?
  8. Let’s talk about anger: When you experience anger, what is this like for you?
  9. What other feelings come to you as you experience the anger?
  10. How might you harness or redirect this energy?
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