Emotions are not mis-firing neural networks, nor are they part of our imagination. Emotions serve a much larger role, and this role is to connect the body, mind, and spirit. The purpose of emotions is to alert us to what is happening in our environment; it also alerts us to what is happening in a deeper, less “accepted” region of the psyche. Negative emotions in particular are large indicators that something is askew; however, people often react to negative emotions by shaming these emotions, by trying to shove them aside and hide from them. You can work with negative emotions, and when you work with them and understand the message behind these emotions, they dissipate on their own.
How do you work with negative emotions? This is a much harder question to address. First you need to understand what exactly emotions are and the role they play in your body, mind, and soul. As a connector to each, emotions have a very intense impact on an individual. Often, the person will feel frightened by the emotions, troubled by them, and wish to avoid their implications. However, avoidance of emotions is extremely unhealthy. When emotions are not tended to, they build up into a complex storm, making it extremely hard to decipher and dissipate.
Dr. Peter Savory, a psychologist at Yale, coined the term Emotion Intelligence. This term focuses on four cognitive skills:
Now lately, society has misunderstood this term as being related to intuition. This is not quite correct, because these cognitive skills can be learned over time. This short article explains how the general public has a slightly misguided view on this idea: Emotional Ignorance. The point here is that managing your emotions and understanding your emotions isn’t an intuitive – you either have it or don’t – gift. You can learn techniques that will greatly increase your ability to identify, understand, apply, regulate, and manage your emotions properly.
The hardest part is identifying your emotions. This is where some people start to avoid emotions, especially negative emotions, because identifying them makes them more real. However, hiding away an emotion only adds a layer of shame and fear to the already negative emotion, causing the maelstrom to grow, which, of course, makes it harder to decipher. There is a multitude of techniques involved in identifying emotions. One way is try to isolate the emotion and seek its message – this can be done through therapy or meditation or even guided imagery. For example, the emotion of anger – from what does this emotion stem? What area of your life is causing this anger? Is the anger situated on an outside event? Or an action you did? Or an action your friend/partner/family member/stranger did? Sometimes you may not be able to fully find the source of the anger or any other negative emotion, because the action or event may be so deeply buried in you that it is hard to retrieve; in such cases, it may be best to seek therapy. A therapist has methods that can help a person identify and manage a particular emotion, especially if the negative emotion is harshly impacting your life.
Once you obtain the message inherent in the emotion, you can then move forward and seek to understand and manage that emotion. Understanding the emotion is the key to managing it, for without a proper understanding of why you feel the way you do, it makes it harder to create a battle plan on easing this emotion and finding a peaceful equilibrium in your spirit again.
I won’t go into details with techniques, because I don’t know them all. However, I can say this: breathing deeply is one of the most valuable and necessary reactions to any extreme emotion. Breathing deeply helps calm the body, slows down the fight or flight response, so that you have a better chance of thinking clearly – clearly enough to identify that emotion and manage it properly. This skill can be learned, and although some people may be better at it than others, it is not impossible to learn.
Another important point is how you react and deal with the emotions of other people. Identifying if the negative emotion stems from yourself or is a reflection from someone else is also helpful in determining a way to react in a healthy manner. Here is an insightful article in regards to this: Disengaging from others’ negative emotions.
I, myself, am still practicing these four skills: identifying, understanding, using, and managing emotions. I may be good in some areas in regards to emotions, but in order to be a truly person, I need to be able to do reasonably well in all of the skills. It is perhaps a lifetime goal, but over time, the more I practice and seek to understand, the better I will become at each of these skills. There is no need to hide from one’s emotions, and to do so may cause far greater harm in the long run. Yes, it is a bit more challenging and harder to face one’s emotions and process them in a healthy manner, but I think in the end, it is worth the effort. You are healthier and more whole because of it.