We’re told and it’s true, that negative emotions are bad for us. Negativity not only zaps our happiness, but in large doses, it can actually drain our life-force. But, are some negative emotions actually okay? Well, it all depends.
Can bad emotions be good for you?
Most of us are taught from an early age that we should nurture and show positive emotions — happiness, kindness, forgiveness, gratitude and compassion. However, some people are taught that while they should always embrace these good and positive emotions, negative ones are always meant to be suppressed. That however, may not be healthy or even possible.
Some leading mental health professionals believe that while negative emotions are not necessarily healthy, they do serve a purpose.
How can negative emotions be useful?
Emotions such as anger, jealousy fear and resentment are pretty much toxic. If left unchecked, these bad emotions always lead to problems — problems for the self and, for others. These emotions though, like it or not, are pretty much a part of our human makeup — in order to experience the good emotions, we obviously need to have also experienced the bad ones too. The key is, in what quantities or volume? Too much of any negative emotion is a very bad thing indeed.
I’m not saying that being a positive person is impossible or implausible. In fact, I’m saying just the opposite. There is a big misconception that positive thinkers are delusional, hiding their true emotions and blithely going through life with rose-color glasses on. Nothing could be further from the truth. Positive people know there is a great deal of negativity in the world and suffer from negative emotions like everyone else. The difference is, positive people have made the resolute decision to embrace positivity over negativity. In other words, positive thinkers try to see the good in any way possible and believe that things can and will get better.
Don’t deny the negative
Being positive means acknowledging the negative emotions so we can be in control of those toxic feelings. To fully stifle them leads to an internal back-up and without an outlet, they have no where to go, so they fester inside — this is the danger of having mismanaged emotions.
Some traditionally accepted negative emotions can actually be a catalyst for good. They can, if handled and directed appropriately, lead to positive change, heal relationships, foster creativity, etc.
Here are a few ways in which negative emotions can serve a higher purpose when managed properly:
Anger : You read about a great injustice happening somewhere in the world. The news of this injustice causes you to feel sad and then, angry. You’re mad that it’s happening and you believe it to be grossly unfair. That anger, if channeled properly, can lead to action — you decide to get involved to help and you rally friends to pitch in too. You write letters, post articles, share on social media, etc. You’re angry, but not enraged and you’ve taken that anger and appropriately channeled it to induce change for the positive. If one were to simply read about the injustice and say “well, tomorrow is another day and I’m sure things will get better,” our world would be a mess. We need action and involvement and this in case, the anger was used to bring about something good. Anger that is just rage for the sake of it, is rarely a good thing and its poorly managed anger that leads to toxicity.
“What angers us in another person is more often than not an unhealed aspect of ourselves. If we had already resolved that particular issue, we would not be irritated by its reflection back to us.” – Simon Fuller
Pessimism: Pessimism is the antitheses of positivity — they’re polar opposite. So how can pessimism ever be good? Pessimism isn’t good. It is however, a normal human emotion that creeps in now and then. The key is to recognize it and to counter it with a plan of action. You’re up for a promotion at work. You feel you deserve the promotion, but there’s another co-worker they’re considering as well. When you get home you start to think about it and naturally, some doubt creeps in and you start to give up, believing that for sure, your co-worker will get the promotion. Maybe they will. Is that the end of the world? No. But in this case, being a positive person, you recognize the pessimism and that prompts you to do some logical thinking: if you get it, great. You’ll do the best you can, as you always have. If however you don’t get the promotion, you’ll still give 100% effort in your current position. You accept that it wasn’t meant to be and that one day, you will advance in our career through sheer hard and quality work. To simply hum or whistle to mute out the pessimistic feelings is not helpful. One must see it, tackle it and use it to lead to a positive outcome, even if that positive outcome is further down the road.
“Fight to keep going, to get through all the crap that seems so thick there is nowhere to go and no way to get through it… there is always a way. And that way is forward, just keep striving to move forward whether it’s one step at a time or five. Just don’t stay idle in all the thickness, it will devour you.” – Cathy Gipson
Fear: this is an emotion that is tied to survival. You sense a threat of some kind and your instincts put you on alert. To ignore this or pretend it’s not there isn’t realistic. Obviously, it depends on the circumstances, but if for example you fear for your job or a relationship, that fear can be a catalyst to get you to sit up and take notice: What’s happening? Why is my fear instinct kicking in? Is it rational? What can I do? In this case, maybe it’s telling you that you need to be more diligent in your job or that you need to value your relationships more.
“Don’t be afraid of your fears. They’re not there to scare you. They’re there to let you know that something is worth it.” – C. JoyBell C.
Negative emotions are a part of who we are and to ignore them probably isn’t healthy. But as they say, all things in moderation. Anger, jealousy fear and resentment, among others, are dangerous when they aren’t managed appropriately. A big difference between a negative and positive person is that the positive thinker is more mindful and recognizes when these bad emotions are surfacing. Furthermore, the positive thinker gets them under control and goes about finding a way to turn the negative into a positive.
Be mindful to regularly check on your emotions — ask how you’re feeling and as important, why. Figure out ways to channel the negative into a positive. And as always, when we have emotions we can’t handle, getting the help of a qualified professional is essential.
“Forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future. Give everyone a smile. Spend so much time improving yourself that you have no time left to criticize others. Be too big for worry and too noble for anger.” ― Norman Vincent Peale