Categories
Device

Why negative emotions aren’t that bad (and how to handle them)

The science of emotions tells us that negative emotions such as fear, anger and sadness are actually healthy and useful

  • By Jade Wu Savvy Psychologist on November 5, 2019

Why negative emotions aren't that bad (and how to handle them)

“data-newsletterpromo_article-image=”https://static.scientificamerican.com/sciam/cache/file/CF54EB21-65FD-4978-9EEF80245C772996_source.jpg”data-newsletterpromo_article-button-text=”Sign Up”data-newsletterpromo_article-button-link=”https://www.scientificamerican.com/page/newsletter-sign-up/?origincode=2018_sciam_ArticlePromo_NewsletterSignUp”name=”articleBody” itemprop=”articleBody”>

Why won’t my brain just let me relax? Why do I have such a short fuse? Why do I feel so sad? I wish I could just pull myself up by the emotional bootstraps and get happy!

These are some of the most common questions my therapy clients ask. And they’re all thoughts I’ve had about my own emotions. What we’re really saying is, “Negative emotions are bad. I want to get rid of them.” And no wonder! Fear twists our stomachs, anger makes us feel out of control, and sadness is such a downer. Sometimes, these emotions can seem so powerful that we feel like victims of their relentless grasp.

So why do we have them? Why do our brains play such cruel tricks on us? And how can we avoid having negative emotions?

Are Negative Emotions Bad?

Let’s start by questioning our assumptions for a moment. Are negative emotions all bad? Should we really try to get rid of them? After all, we figure that thumbs are useful because we evolved to have them over millions of years, and that tails are not because we evolved to lose them over time. So, if negative emotions have stuck around this long, shouldn’t there be some good reason to have them?

This week, we will bust some myths about anger, deconstruct fear, and learn to appreciate sadness. I’ll also give you one “golden rule” on how to handle these emotions in a healthy and productive way.

Your stomach clenches. Your muscles tense. Your heart starts to pound. Your whole body is on high alert, with every hair standing on end. Your palms get sweaty and your fingertips tingle.

In other words, a wave of fear washes over you, sudden and powerful like electricity.

Why? Well, you’re a homo erectus living on the Savannah a million years ago, and you’ve just caught sight of a saber tooth tiger hiding behind a bush. Your thinking brain has no time to say, “Oh look, this creature seems like it could harm me, so I should prepare my body for an emergency situation.” But luckily, the sympathetic nervous system doesn’t waste time. It sends a super-quick alarm through the body to get you ready for fighting or fleeing. Of course, this alarm feels, well, alarming. If it were soothing and sweet, you wouldn’t take the danger very seriously, would you?

The increased blood flow and adrenaline help you to run home to your cave. You survive today, and tomorrow, you may be lucky enough to find a mate and pass on your genes.

So, is fear useful? It’s literally life-saving! Even in today’s human world, where there are fewer saber tooth tigers lurking behind bushes, fear still helps us to survive. We get goose prickles when walking down a dark alley at night. We think twice about risky decisions. And we back off when someone comes at us with a threatening expression.

Well, most of us do.

A 2012 study compared psychopaths and healthy people on how they responded to pictures of threatening faces. The pictures were shown on a computer screen, and participants could use a joystick to either push or pull the pictures to make them smaller or bigger. Healthy participants tended to push the pictures away. Psychopathic participants, on the other hand, didn’t try to avoid the threatening faces at all. And this pattern of responding was associated with their level of instrumental aggression, which means being aggressive on purpose. So, being fearless might also mean being cold-hearted!

Also, most of us learn to fear things if they come with bad consequences. For example, in a 2005 brain imaging study, healthy participants learned to fear pictures of faces with mustaches, because each time they saw these faces, they would get an uncomfortable poke from an air pressure tube. The fear circuits in their brains were activated during this learning process, and their bodies reacted with appropriate fear responses like sweating. But their psychopathic counterparts were different. Their skin did not get sweaty, and their fear circuits showed no particular activation.

It seems like fear is not only a useful emotion for our individual survival. It’s also an emotion that may help keep the whole tribe peaceful. If all of us were literally fearless, all of us could be psychopaths, and that sounds like a truly dangerous situation.

Jumat, 09 Agustus 2019

Why Negative Emotions Aren’t All Bad

Why negative emotions aren't that bad (and how to handle them)

Why won’t my brain just let me relax? Why do I have such a short fuse? Why do I feel so sad? I wish I could just pull myself up by the emotional bootstraps and get happy!

These are some of the most common questions my therapy clients ask. And they’re all thoughts I’ve had about my own emotions. What we’re really saying is, “Negative emotions are bad. I want to get rid of them.” And no wonder! Fear twists our stomachs, anger makes us feel out of control, and sadness is such a downer. Sometimes, these emotions can seem so powerful that we feel like victims of their relentless grasp.

So why do we have them? Why do our brains play such cruel tricks on us? And how can we avoid having negative emotions?

Are Negative Emotions Bad?

Let’s start by questioning our assumptions for a moment. Are negative emotions all bad? Should we really try to get rid of them? After all, we figure that thumbs are useful because we evolved to have them over millions of years, and that tails are not because we evolved to lose them over time. So, if negative emotions have stuck around this long, shouldn’t there be some good reason to have them?

This week, we will bust some myths about anger, deconstruct fear, and learn to appreciate sadness. I’ll also give you one “golden rule” on how to handle these emotions in a healthy and productive way.

Your stomach clenches. Your muscles tense. Your heart starts to pound. Your whole body is on high alert, with every hair standing on end. Your palms get sweaty and your fingertips tingle.

In other words, a wave of fear washes over you, sudden and powerful like electricity.

Why? Well, you’re a homo erectus living on the Savannah a million years ago, and you’ve just caught sight of a saber tooth tiger hiding behind a bush. Your thinking brain has no time to say, “Oh look, this creature seems like it could harm me, so I should prepare my body for an emergency situation.” But luckily, the sympathetic nervous system doesn’t waste time. It sends a super-quick alarm through the body to get you ready for fighting or fleeing. Of course, this alarm feels, well, alarming. If it were soothing and sweet, you wouldn’t take the danger very seriously, would you?

Is fear useful? It’s literally life-saving!

The increased blood flow and adrenaline help you to run home to your cave. You survive today, and tomorrow, you may be lucky enough to find a mate and pass on your genes.

So, is fear useful? It’s literally life-saving! Even in today’s human world, where there are fewer saber tooth tigers lurking behind bushes, fear still helps us to survive. We get goose prickles when walking down a dark alley at.

Remember when people used to say they were “high on life?” I’ve definitely felt that phenomenon, but I have also felt very low too. As a highly sensitive person (HSP), I tend to feel all emotions to the extreme. For me, when dealing with any sort of big life change, my emotions feel like they’re on a rollercoaster. One minute, so excited — and the next panicked and tortured about dealing with it, even if it’s positive.

This happens to HSPs because the parts of our brains that process emotions are more active than they are in other people. We’re wired to experience the world with greater emotional “vividness,” almost like we’re seeing it in HD.

And, while that can be incredible with happy emotions, it makes negative emotions completely overwhelming. A single small source of anxiety can derail me for days. In fact, believe this is a common reason why many highly sensitive people feel like something is “wrong with them” or they wish to erase their high sensitivity for good.

Here’s why negative emotions hit HSPs hard — and what you can do to deal with them.

Why Negative Emotions Hit Hard for HSPs

Besides processing all emotions vividly, HSPs also deal with more emotions than the average person. This is because we tend to absorb emotions from other people (or just from the mood in the room). In other words, we don’t just deal with our own negative feelings, we have to deal with everyone else’s, too.

And we can easily get stuck in them. When you feel things so strongly and deeply, as HSPs do, and you’re picking them up everywhere you go, sometimes you have to take time to figure out what you’re even feeling and why. Are you anxious because of how that job interview went? Or is it just because the interviewer seemed distracted? Or, is it because the barista at the coffee shop was having a bad day and didn’t realize he was practically screaming it with his body language?

Sometimes, you end up harboring emotions like anger, sadness, or anxiety for reasons that aren’t even yours to deal with. Other times, they’re definitely your own — but you’re feeling them so strongly that it’s hard to even visualize them ever getting better.

Either way, that’s when it’s time to step back and start to process them — in a way that will actually help you get “un-stuck.”

Join the HSP revolution. One email, every Friday. Posts that heal, transform, and make you feel understood. Subscribe here.

5 Steps to Deal with Negative Emotions (and Actually Feel Better)

I believe learning to manage your emotions in a healthy way is important, and I give it a whole chapter in my book about my journey as a highly sensitive person with anxiety. Here are five steps I’ve identified to processing and moving past negative emotions:

1. You’re going to have to feel those feelings.

I don’t know about others, but when I’m feeling anxious or hurt, I want to shove that icky, negative feeling as far away as possible. But here’s the trick: you need to feel those emotions before you can fully release them.

For some people, that may be as simple as sitting quietly somewhere safe (cozy blanket, anyone?) and thinking through them. For me, though, it takes more. Some effective ways to really get unblocked and process an emotion include journaling, talking it out with a trusted friend — someone who treats you with respect — or simply crying. (Yes, crying is nature’s way of truly feeling something and letting it out!)

If you’re in a safe space, you could even scream, punch a pillow, or tear up paper. All of these put the feeling into motion and help you get un-stuck.

2. Use positive physical cues to calm yourself down.

These cues can involve deep breathing, yoga, hot tea or coffee, or the aforementioned cozy blanket. Personally, I prefer hot showers, because they’re not just relaxing but also cleansing. You can even use a little visualization: as you shower, picture yourself scrubbing away the negativity and inviting in more positive vibes.

Think about the physical sensations or rituals that make you feel calm, centered, and more relaxed. If you make it a point to use them whenever you’re overwhelmed by a negative emotion, your body will start to associate the physical cue with the healing process, and you’ll begin to feel better almost immediately.

3. Avoid negative emotional triggers.

You know what doesn’t help negativity? More negativity. No matter where it comes from, or how well-intentioned it might be.

Think of healing from negative emotions like healing from a scrape. There’s going to be a scab and a sore spot for a while. If you rub that spot, even just a little, the scab is likely to break and you’ll have to start all over (usually with even more pain).

So you need to avoid stressors when you’re dealing with negative feelings.

Personally, I try to avoid the news because it’s always negative. I also try to avoid people who are always looking for something to complain about, or who focus on the negatives. Look at the people in your life and how you feel after you see them. You may need to make some adjustments.

And, if you can’t exactly avoid some people in your life, learn to set healthy boundaries.

4. Feed your basic needs, not just your heart.

I know I tend to feel more negative emotions when I’m too tired, haven’t eaten properly, or feel stressed out. Emotions can seem all-consuming, but they live in your body with you. Taking good care of that body and mind is the first step, and will often have surprising effects on your heart as well.

Try meditation to reduce stress, eat regular healthy meals, drink lots of water, and get enough sleep. These are basic, and chances are, one of them will be more of a keystone for you than the others. Notice which things actually make you feel positive or less worried, and make a routine that works for YOU.

5. Focus on what you can control.

Often, when we’re stuck in a negative emotion, it’s because it feels big and overwhelming — like we either have to take on the world or completely handle it, or like it will roll over us no matter what we do. Usually, the truth is somewhere in between.

So, when you’re completely overwhelmed: remind yourself that you can’t control exactly what happens, and take that burden off yourself. And then ask: what do I control?

This is usually when you stop feeling powerless and start to see a path forward.

Remember: life would be boring if we only felt positive and happy. Negative emotions are there to balance you out, teach you a lesson, and help you feel grateful for the happy times. But that doesn’t mean you need to stay stuck in them.

Do you struggle with anxiety or difficult emotions? Lauren Stewart’s book, My Journey as a Highly Sensitive Person with Anxiety: How I went from an Emotional Mess to Confident Woman and You Can Too, is designed to help. Get your copy here.

You might like:

  • Why Highly Sensitive People Get Mentally and Emotionally ‘Flooded’
  • This Is the Difference Between a Highly Sensitive Brain and a ‘Typical’ Brain
  • How I Learned to Stop Absorbing Other People’s Emotions

We participate in the Amazon affiliate program.

W hen I lose my cool, two things tend to happen.

First, I get angry at the situation. Why can’t the stupid trains just run on a schedule? Why did I seem to hit every possible “don’t walk” sign as I sprinted to the station? Why does the world have it out for me?!

Then, I get mad at myself for getting mad. Why am I letting a silly train ruin my day? Don’t I know better by now? What’s the point of doing all those meditations and breathing exercises if I go nuclear at the sight of closing subway doors?

I’m not the only one to get upset at myself for how I feel. A recent study shines light on “meta-emotions,” or emotions about your emotions, finding that humans have a range of feelings about feelings, and experience them regularly.

Confused? Let me break it down: Say you’re in a great mood—you could probably label the way you’re feeling as “happy.” But how do you feel about feeling happy? Maybe it’s been a while since you last felt such unbridled joy, and you’re relieved by your good mood. Perhaps everyone around you is upset, which leaves you feeling guilty about that smile on your face. Or, maybe you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, nervous that your good mood will turn sour. That’s your meta-emotions in action.

“Meta-emotions can be classified into four types: negative-negative (e.g., feeling embarrassed about feeling sad), negative-positive (e.g., feeling guilty about feeling happy), positive-positive (e.g., feeling hopeful about feeling relieved), and positive-negative (e.g., feeling pleased about feeling angry),” write the study authors. “In our study, negative-negative meta-emotions were the most common type. This indicates that many people get upset, nervous, or angry about their own negative emotions, in particular.”

‘Meta-emotions’ are emotions about your emotions.

The study found that over half of participants experienced at least one meta-emotion over the course of a week, and that those super-charged feelings might even be linked to their general mental health.

The researchers aren’t sure why some people experience meta-emotions more than others, but guess that it could have something to do with upbringing—if your parents weren’t big on showing emotion, you might tend to have negative reactions to your own moods. What they do know is that your meta-emotions aren’t as out of your control as you might think.

“Importantly, experiencing negative-negative meta-emotions is not inherently a bad thing,” write the researchers. “The trick may lie in learning to understand these emotions and being flexible about the way you cope with them.”

Here’s how to do it.

ID Your Feels

Step one is to break down your emotions—to separate the underlying emotion from how it’s making you feel. Your meta-emotion might be camouflaging your true emotions, or ever protecting you from experiencing them.

Say you and your sister have one of your famous holiday blowups. You might be coursing with anger, mad at yourself for falling into her trap again, but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find sadness underneath.

The next time you find yourself deep in emotions, pause. Ask: What am I feeling right now? Why am I feeling it? How do I wish I felt, or expect the best version of me to feel in this situation?

Once you understand how you’re really feeling, you’ll have a clearer idea of how to act.

Understand the Importance of Meta-Emotions

Let’s go back to my train stress.

First I got angry at the trains, and then I got mad at myself for being angry in the first place. At the time, my anger seemed pointless, and even a little embarrassing—wasn’t all that rage a waste of time? Not necessarily. The study authors advocate for appreciating your negative emotions and the ways they might help you.

Your negative emotions are important signals that alert you when something is not right in your environment.

“If you didn’t get angry when treated unfairly, you might not be motivated to make needed changes to your situation,” they write. “Your negative emotions are important signals that alert you when something is not right in your environment. They can also serve as signals to others that you need help or support. When you are feeling anxious, for example, a friend might notice the muscle tension in your face or a change in your voice and ask you what is wrong.”

In my case, my frustration over missing the train might prompt me to leave a little earlier the next day, so as not to miss it again. When I think of my reaction that way, it doesn’t seem like such a waste of energy.

Practice a Little Self-Kindness

Those rush of emotions you feel? They’re a sign that you’re a living, breathing human. So the next time you get sad, or angry, and then sad or angry about being sad or angry, take a deep breath and take a moment to forgive yourself.

If you’re alone with a few minutes to spare, try taking a self-compassion break, as detailed here: Start by really experiencing the moment: What words or phrases has your inner voice been using? Does your body feel tight or pained? Are you clenching your jaw?

Then, tell yourself (either out loud or silently): “This is a moment of suffering.” By naming the experience, you’re staying mindful and centered in the moment.

Next, tell yourself, “Suffering is a part of life.” This helps normalize the experience, and remind you that what you’re feeling isn’t unique or bad.

Finally, place your hands over your heart, breathe in, and say, “May I be kind to myself.”

Don’t beat yourself up for the negativity or linger on what you could’ve done better. Just ground yourself, remember that this is a universal experience, and try to slowly move on.

October 8, 2019 by Alison Cook

Imagine yourself as a child. When you’re hungry, you cry and someone feeds you a nutritious meal. Or when you fall and hurt yourself, you scream and someone runs to your side, lovingly trying to help.

As you grow older, negative experiences occur, such as a friend turns on you and gets other kids to turn on you, too. You feel awful, so you tell an adult that you feel bad. Their wisdom helps you understand that something bad DID happen and that your emotions aren’t wrong. Your feelings are meant to show you how you to take appropriate action to stand up for yourself.

When a caring person guides you through a tough situation, you learn to recognize an unpleasant feeling. You pay attention to your negative emotions, because you understand they are key to your growth. In other words, they help you detect basic needs and warn you of boundary violations. Thus, negative emotions aren’t to be avoided. In fact, they help lead you toward healthy self-care and wise decision making.

But, what if you never learned the value of your negative emotions?

For instance, what if you cried as a child but no one paid attention? What if you got bullied at school, but came home to an empty house with no one to offer compassion? Maybe a misguided adult even told you, “It’s all YOUR fault.”

In that case, you might assume your broken heart is a burden that you must shoulder alone. You might tell yourself, “Heartache is silly—who really cares?” or “Get over it! Life is hard, so just deal with it.”

The problem is that ignoring those your negative emotions doesn’t make them go away.

Instead, they will just get lodged even more deeply inside of you. If no one taught you how to understand your negative emotions, one of two things likely happened:

1.) You learned to numb them with food, entertainment, substances, or overworking.

2.) You developed strong protectors such as armoring up with angry, critical views of other people.

Those coping tactics helped you survive as a kid. But they are not serving you now. They keep you from forging strong, healthy connections with others. And, they keep you from healing the pain that’s lodged deep inside of you.

That’s why your negative emotions are key to your growth—they signal a need or a wound that might need tending.

Do you notice any of the following negative feelings in your life:

—a constant sense of worry

—an angry temper you can’t shake

—a desire to critique or perfect everything (or everyone) around you

—frequent feelings of of shame or fear

—loneliness, no matter how many friends you now have.

Don’t hate these negative emotions—they’re trying to help you in some way. They’re a cue that some aspect of yourself needs loving attention.

Instead of hating yourself for having negative emotions, start to get curious about them:

I wonder what that anger is about. What role does it play?

How long have I been a worrier? When did it start?

What do I fear might happen if I let go of a need to be perfect for one day?

As you get curious about your negative emotions and treat them with compassion, they’ll soften. You’ll

—guide yourself through them instead of denying them.
—get to the root of lies you’ve believed and start to gain clarity.
—develop what psychologists call the ability to “self-regulate” and what the Bible calls the fruit of “self-control.”
—learn how and when to act on an emotion and when to let go.
—develop wisdom from deep down inside.

Your negative emotions don’t have to rule you; freedom comes as you get curious about them and treat them with compassion. You can become that wise adult for yourself—you can calm your emotions and learn better strategies.

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. —2 Timothy 1:7

Everyone experiences negative emotions from time to time. It is perfectly human to have them – after all, you can’t be happy and cheerful all the time.

Moreover, without negative emotions, we wouldn’t be able to recognize and appreciate the positive ones. How would you know that you are happy when you have never been sad and despaired? What would calmness feel like if you’ve never experienced anxiety and anger?

At the same time, when you have a tendency towards a particular emotional state, there could be some deeper reasons than you might realize. Here are the 8 most common negative emotions and the hidden reasons behind them:

1. Anger

When you do not get what you want, your subconscious mind reacts with the feeling of anger in an attempt to force things to go your way. Thus, anger creates an illusion that you can take control of the situation.

Anger helps us get the upper hand in the conflict and even protect our rights. This negative emotion is an unconscious attempt to get your opponent to back down in an argument.

At the same time, anger with yourself can be a way to force yourself to get down to work and get things done.

2. Annoyance

Annoyance is a weak form of anger. It occurs when someone’s behavior provokes you and makes you irritated. When you get annoyed with someone, it means that they don’t behave the way you want them to and you can’t change that. So the hidden meaning of annoyance is that you are basically unable to accept people just the way they are.

Behind all the negative emotions of annoyance and anger, there is a hidden desire to bring the situation under one’s control . It means that we get irritated when something goes wrong and not as we expected.

3. Sadness

This is our way of expressing dissatisfaction with ourselves and our achievements. It makes you feel that something is missing from your life and you would be happier if you had a different job, house, relationship, etc. Sadness prevents you from enjoying all the good things you have in your life.

Feeling nostalgic is another form of sadness when you recall happy memories of the past. While you can’t call it a negative emotion, the common thing here is that you are tricked by the illusion that it was much better back then. This again demonstrates that you are not content with your present life.

If you feel sad and nostalgic too often, then your life may indeed require some changes. It may be that you don’t make any progress and are stuck in life or that you’ve made some choices that led you to the wrong path.

4. Guilt

Guilt is a form of self-punishment that often affects overthinkers and deep people. In rare cases, guilt involves a hidden feeling of superiority which makes you think something like, “I’m so highly evolved that I feel bad about my own mistakes.”

The feeling of guilt is a very destructive emotion that signals that you need to change something about yourself. First of all, you need to figure out where it came from.

Is it just a product of overthinking that has to do with you being too tough on yourself? Or did you indeed do something bad? If you did, then you need to analyze the cause of your action, forgive yourself and promise that this will not happen again. You will also feel much better if you take some real actions to undo the damage and apologize to those you offended.

5. Fear and anxiety

These negative emotions which are incredibly common in today’s world are associated with self-preservation. Their evolutionary mission is to protect us by preventing dangerous situations. In fact, anxiety is a sort of life-saving sixth sense, as revealed by one of the latest studies.

Fear creates images of unpleasant surprises and unexpected obstacles, failures, and accidents. But its primary aim is not to distress you but to help you: to warn you of danger, to show you the real situation, to indicate the hidden pitfalls so that you are ready for the difficulties.

It is necessary to find a grain of truth in these negative emotions. If you manage to use them to your advantage, they can boost your creative problem-solving and motivate you to action.

6. Discouragement and despair

Despair occurs when multiple efforts to achieve something do not bring the desired results. It is a hidden way to give yourself an excuse to give up and desist from further attempts to succeed.

Discouragement and despair may also signal that you have to take some time off work. Maybe you’re just so tired and need some rest, and your mind is trying to let you know.

7. Apathy

Apathy is a hidden form of rebellion against something. As a rule, it manifests itself in those who do not have the power or the ability to rebel openly. It is a passive-aggressive way to express protest and disagreement with something.

Apathy may also be a hidden way to shift responsibility from yourself to someone else. It is when you fall out of the flow of life to the point that other people can’t achieve anything with you. So they have no choice but to take over your duties to get things done.

In rare cases, apathy is a passive-aggressive way of expressing anger. It becomes a sophisticated tool of manipulation and works perfectly by causing a sense of guilt in the subject of manipulation.

8. Disappointment and frustration

Disappointment comes from discontent when you face situations where you do not get what you want. It can also be that other people don’t do what you want.

In any case, the hidden meaning behind the feelings of disappointment and frustration is that you fail to accept life and people the way they are. So you end up feeling frustrated with unfair life and people who didn’t fulfill your expectations.

As you see, negative emotions have a much deeper meaning than it may seem. If you are prone to one particular emotion, it would be wise to analyze yourself and find the hidden roots of it.

  • Author
  • Recent Posts
  • Hiraeth: an Emotional State That Affects Old Souls and Deep Thinkers – June 5, 2021
  • How Social Media Giants Took Over World Power and We Didn’t Notice – June 4, 2021
  • 6 Signs You Are an Extrovert with Social Anxiety, Not an Introvert – June 1, 2021

Why negative emotions aren't that bad (and how to handle them)

Why haven’t our brains learnt to get rid of negative emotions? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Matt Bodnar, Investor & Accidental Podcaster, on Quora:

Why haven’t our brains learnt to get rid of negative emotions?

I have studied questions like this deeply and interviewed tons of experts from psychologists to neuroscientists (and much more) – and I think I can help shed some light on why this question is a bit misguided and also give you some simple and easy tools to help deal with negative emotions.

Evolutionary Psychology

For starters – this question misunderstands how evolution works. Our brains don’t evolve towards some pre-defined end [1]. Evolution is a process that simply selects genetic trains based on reproductive capacity – what that literally means is that when someone reproduces, they pass on their traits because, by definition, those traits got them to the point of being able to reproduce. Over time, this shapes populations towards certain behavior types and trends – the ingrained behaviors and biases that happen to lead to reproduction. That’s it. The people who didn’t make it to reproductive age and actually reproduce, whether they had low sex drive, weren’t afraid of danger, didn’t care about foraging for food, etc. – simply never reproduced and so their genes never got passed along.

Our brains aren’t evolving to make us happier and more content, if anything, the crucible of evolution evolved us to be constantly worried , thinking about dangers and problems, and being anxious [2]. This is an oversimplification – but think about it – 500,000 years ago – who was more likely to reproduce – the person who was fearless and went out into the wild every day staring danger in the face – or the person who was scared to leave camp? The hero ended up getting eaten by a lion and the person who was scared at camp ended up procreating and passing along their genes.

In fact – your brain is a 2 million year old piece of hardware that was programmed to live in a world where we face real physical threats, like tigers and lions and starvation – not a world where the biggest danger posed to us comes in the from of an email from our boss. And that’s not changing any time soon – because there is essentially no evolutionary pressure on humans – we aren’t really evolving towards anything anymore.

Negative Emotions

But what about these negative emotions? The notion that negative emotions are bad for you is also not really the right way to look at it. Here are a few key things to understand about negative emotions.

(1) Negative emotions are unavoidable. You cannot avoid experiencing negative emotions – and by trying to or by pushing them down, ignoring them, and distracting yourself – you are actually causing these emotions to intensify and become greater . Trying to avoid experiencing negative emotions, paradoxically, makes you experience them more frequently and with more intensity.

Tal Ben Shahar – who taught the most popular class in Harvard’s history which was on Happiness – famously says that only two types of people never experience negative emotions – psychopaths and dead people. He has also shared a number of paradoxical strategies to embrace and accept negative emotions and improve your happiness .

Emotional perfectionism – or the idea that you should always be in positive emotional states – can cause some serious problems – and worsen the experience of going through negative emotions. Cultivating self compassion and a more realistic perspective that negative emotions are inevitable and natural helps tremendously.

Your emotions are messengers trying to send you information. The sooner you accept that and listen to what they are saying, the better off you will be.

(2) Negative emotions are data, not direction. Negative emotions provide you with meaningful and relevant information that you can use to make decisions, prioritize , and understand that something is going on in your life. Listen to that message. But also know that emotions aren’t necessary correct or right – they don’t mean you have to go in that particular direction, but they are providing you with incredibly useful information that you should listen to and incorporate into your behavior.

In fact, when you look at high stakes performers like stock traders and professional poker players – they don’t try to remove emotion from the equation – they leverage their emotions to improve their decision-making process .

Consider Meditation & Mindfulness

With that said – there are some tools you can use to more effectively harness your negative emotions and productively learn from them.

The first and most obvious is meditation. While evolution certainly isn’t coming to the rescue any time soon, meditation is proven again and again in the science ( here is an overview and a ton of scientific studies about meditation and its power ) to be one of the most effective paths of dealing with anxiety, stress, and negative emotions.

In a recent interview I did with Dr. Rick Hanson , author of the book Buddha’s Brain, which is about the neuroscience behind meditation, he shares a number of insights into how meditation helps deal with stress and anxiety .

I am always happy to answer any questions personally as well. Feel free to reach out to me if you want to learn more. I hope this helps shed some light on both how our brains work and why negative emotions are not only necessary, but good.

Footnotes

This question originally appeared on Quora – the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions:

Why negative emotions aren't that bad (and how to handle them)

Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Why negative emotions aren't that bad (and how to handle them)

Why negative emotions aren't that bad (and how to handle them)

There is a powerful hidden reason negative emotions are helpful.

Imagine yourself as a child. When you’re hungry, you cry and someone feeds you a nutritious meal. Or when you fall and hurt yourself, you scream and someone runs to your side, lovingly trying to help.

As you grow older, negative experiences occur, such as a friend turns on you and gets other kids to turn on you, too. You feel awful, so you tell an adult that you feel bad. Their wisdom helps you understand that something bad DID happen and that your emotions aren’t wrong. Your feelings are meant to show you how you to take appropriate action to stand up for yourself.

When a caring person guides you through a tough situation, you learn to recognize an unpleasant feeling. You pay attention to your negative emotions, because you understand they are key to your growth. In other words, they help you detect basic needs and warn you of boundary violations. Thus, negative emotions aren’t to be avoided. In fact, they help lead you toward healthy self-care and wise decision making.

But, what if you never learned the value of your negative emotions?

For instance, what if you cried as a child but no one paid attention? What if you got bullied at school, but came home to an empty house with no one to offer compassion? Maybe a misguided adult even told you, “It’s all YOUR fault.”

In that case, you might assume your broken heart is a burden that you must shoulder alone. You might tell yourself, “Heartache is silly—who really cares?” or “Get over it! Life is hard, so just deal with it.”

The problem is that ignoring your negative emotions doesn’t make them go away.

Instead, they will just get lodged even more deeply inside of you. If no one taught you how to understand your negative emotions, one of two things likely happened:

1.) You learned to numb them with food, entertainment, substances, or overworking.

2.) You developed strong protectors such as armoring up with angry, critical views of other people.

Those coping tactics helped you survive as a kid. But they are not serving you now. They keep you from forging strong, healthy connections with others. And, they keep you from healing the pain that’s lodged deep inside of you.

That’s why your negative emotions are key to your growth—they signal a need or a wound that might need tending.

Do you notice any of the following negative feelings in your life:

—a constant sense of worry

—an angry temper you can’t shake

—a desire to critique or perfect everything (or everyone) around you

—frequent feelings of of shame or fear

—loneliness, no matter how many friends you now have.

Don’t hate these negative emotions—they’re trying to help you in some way. They’re a cue that some aspect of yourself needs loving attention.

Instead of hating yourself for having negative emotions, start to get curious about them:

I wonder what that anger is about. What role does it play?

How long have I been a worrier? When did it start?

What do I fear might happen if I let go of a need to be perfect for one day?

As you get curious about your negative emotions and treat them with compassion, they’ll soften. You’ll

—guide yourself through them instead of denying them.
—get to the root of lies you’ve believed and start to gain clarity.
—develop what psychologists call the ability to “self-regulate” and what the Bible calls the fruit of “self-control.”
—learn how and when to act on an emotion and when to let go.
—develop wisdom from deep down inside.

Your negative emotions don’t have to rule you; freedom comes as you get curious about them and treat them with compassion. You can become that wise adult for yourself—you can calm your emotions and learn better strategies.

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. —2 Timothy 1:7

This article about negative emotions originally appeared here.

For your own happiness, well-being, and peace of mind, and also to improve your life and get rid of depression for good faster and easier, it’s important that you:

  • Stop treating ‘negative’ emotions like fear, anxiety, anger, guilt, sadness, unhappiness, regret, and so on, as if they are threats to you and your well-being
  • Start treating these types of ‘bad’ feelings as signals that alert you to opportunities for improvement, much like a ringing fire alarm does

Here’s why it’s important to do this.

Why ‘bad’ feelings are alerts, not threats

There are 3 main reasons why it’s in your best interest to treat ‘bad’ feelings as signals that alert you to opportunities for improvement in your life, rather than treating them as threats:

Indeed, when you see ‘bad’ feelings as threats or enemies that can harm you:

  • You are naturally afraid of ‘bad’ feelings, and you feel like you have to fight them to protect yourself
  • This is an extremely stressful mindset, which naturally makes you feel bad, in and of itself (the very thing you’re afraid of!)
  • It also naturally leaves you feeling perpetually exhausted from ‘battling’ these types of emotions
  • See more
  • Furthermore, it leads to a life that is naturally less enjoyable and worthwhile, since you experience the perpetual fear of feeling bad (even when you feel ‘good’, there’s always the fear that you could feel ‘bad’ at any moment)
  • Depending on how afraid you are of feeling bad, you can begin living a life that is governed by this fear, where you begin avoiding people and situations that might lead to ‘negative’ emotions that you find dangerous and threatening
  • In such a way, you naturally experience a much more limited life, with far less success, achievement, enjoyment, and happiness overall

Due to all of these effects, perceiving ‘negative’ emotions as threats is an extremely destructive form of negative thinking that you’re much better off without in every way.

Think of a fire alarm going off in your house. You might not enjoy the unpleasant sound it makes, but you can be thankful that it alerts you to a fire to put out.

Similarly, you can think of ‘negative’ emotions as perhaps being unpleasant to experience, but helpful in the sense that they alert you to opportunities for improvement.

When you adopt this very constructive, useful, and beneficial view:

  • You are naturally less afraid (or not afraid at all!) of ‘bad’ feelings, any more than you would be afraid of a fire alarm, especially since you appreciate that you can gain and benefit from them in some way
  • This is a much more peaceful, confident mindset, which naturally makes you feel better, in and of itself (the very thing you probably already want!)
  • It also naturally leaves you feeling more calm and rested, since you’re free of trying to ‘battle’ any ‘negative’ emotions, and are instead focused how you can benefit from these types of alerts, by identifying opportunities for improvement
  • See more
  • Furthermore, it leads to a life that is naturally more enjoyable and worthwhile, since not only are you less afraid of feeling bad (or not afraid at all), but you’re also naturally more energized and motivated to make improvements in your life
  • Even better, by improving your life, you naturally stop feeling bad, much like a fire alarm naturally stops ringing once you put out the fire; for example, once you eliminate and replace a negative thought that makes you feel bad, you stop feeling bad
  • In such a way, you naturally experience a richer life, with far more success, achievement, enjoyment, and happiness overall, especially since you find a way to benefit from negative emotions, rather than simply ‘suffer’ from them or fight them

It makes sense every way you look at it to treat ‘negative’ emotions as alerts rather than threats, especially when you consider:

  • ‘Bad’ feelings are ultimately created in the mind, via various ways of negative thinking
  • Therefore, among other things, ‘bad’ feelings naturally alert you that you are currently thinking in a negative, destructive way that makes you feel bad, and that you could improve your life and feel better immediately by improving your thinking
  • For example, let’s say you feel bad after you lose your job: among other things, this bad feeling alerts you that you can improve the way you think about your job loss (it might also alert you that you could improve your situation by finding a new job)
  • See more
  • By focusing on finding a new job, and improving the way you think about your job loss, you naturally feel better, and you stop feeling bad about your job loss
  • This improvement in how you feel is similar to how a fire alarm naturally stops ringing when you put out a fire
  • So, when you consider how much it benefits you to treat ‘negative’ emotions as alerts, not threats, and how this is a completely logical, valid, acceptable view, it makes complete sense in every way to accept this constructive view of ‘bad’ feelings

Click on any reason for more information.

Then, eliminate and replace any negative thoughts that make you afraid of feeling bad.

You are here:

Lesson summary:

Learn how to deal with negative feelings like fear, anxiety, sadness, guilt, anger, and depression fearlessly. Start feeling better in 5 minutes or less.