“Painful as it may be, a significant emotional event can be the catalyst for choosing a direction that serves us more effectively.”
Louisa May Alcott
This post is a companion piece to How To Activate Positive Emotions To Empower You Any Time.
I don’t think there is any doubt in your mind that you will never feel good about negative emotions.
After all, negative emotions are disempowering feelings that cause you to feel sad and miserable.
Negative feelings also make it difficult to think and act rationally. They are typically linked to negative situations that you want to avoid, forget, or overcome.
However, suppressing negative feelings in their entirety may be the source of a variety of psychological problems. Here are four reasons why:
Avoiding negativity may lower your tolerance for it and make it more difficult to deal with life’s obstacles.
It is a coping strategy against negative emotions. You’ll deny that something negative exists to avoid unpleasant feelings or situations because facing the truth is too painful.
If you’re upset, and you don’t admit it, your anger will be buried deep within your body. Anger, when directed inside, can lead to depression and other health issues.
Instead of avoiding negative emotions, let’s explore in greater detail how you can use your emotions to empower your life.
“An experience that is so mentally arresting that it becomes a catalyst for you to consider, examine, and possibly change your initial values or value system.”
Your values are the compass that guides all of your life and relationship decisions. Values guide you through the myriad options you are presented with on a daily basis. They may be said to make up a significant part of who you are and how others see you.
According to Massey, your values are formed over three primary periods:
This is the stage of your life when you soak up everything around you like a sponge. And you take everything as true without question, especially when it comes from your parents.
“Observational learning” is the term for this period. Observing others in your environment, whether on television, at school, or at home, is how you learn.
This is the stage in your life when you’re greatly impacted by friends, the media, technology, music and other factors. You will naturally gravitate toward others who are similar to you.
Massey believes that your everyday actions will reflect the beliefs you have formed. Your values will be reflected in your communication style, work ethics, and ideas. And so you will live your life in this manner.
Unless a SEE occurs or you make a conscious effort to change your beliefs, things will remain as they are.
No matter what age, gender, or race you belong to, SEEs appear to randomly occur in every living person’s life. Like an alarm clock, it jolts you out of your slumber and “awakens” your inner giant.
It pushes you out of your comfort zone. Its impact is so significant that it would spur you to contemplate life and examine your personal values.
Have you ever experienced an emotional event that you found highly impactful in your life? The kind that brings with it positive emotional and psychological reactions?
SEEs can appear in your life in a positive form, like marriage, the birth of a child, or a job promotion. It could also be traumatic, like a separation, critical illness, job layoff, or the death of a loved one.
These are things that can influence how you think, act, and feel. When this occurs, everything in your life changes. If you are unguided or unaware, a SEE can hit you like a ton of bricks. As Massey puts it:
“The common denominator of significant emotional events is a challenge and a disruption to our present behavior patterns and beliefs.”
These are events in your life that have the potential to alter your viewpoint, worldview, and value system.
SEEs are so impactful that they cause a person to question and possibly change their values. The positive ones usually provide good motivation and drive you towards another level of success and happiness.
What if you are hit with the negative ones? How do you cope with it?
Unfortunately, negative SEEs seem to have a greater intensity than the pleasant ones.
For example, a SEE involving rage may has the potential to dominate your thoughts. And it can be more powerful than a memory of a previous romantic encounter.
Emotions can be trapped in our bodies after SEEs occur in our lives. These trapped emotions which remain in our memories may potentially be the cause of many mental and physical dis-eases.
SEEs of a negative nature may have occurred as far back as childhood. They also have the potential to be the source of mental, emotional, and physical disharmony in the body.
Besides dis-eases, negative emotions trapped in your body can be crippling and impede progress in many areas of your life.
Let’s suppose one of the SEEs in your life was a recent divorce. Due to the trapped emotions created by the event, each subsequent relationship ends the exact same way.
Every time you pursue a romantic relationship, you are reminded of events in which you feel betrayed or hurt. You may not even recall the negative emotions, but at a certain point they resurface and the relationship ends.
The negative emotions of hurt and disappointment trapped in your body had prevented you from enjoying a normal, healthy relationship.
The trapped emotions caused by negative SEEs contain the memory of the event or experience. To end this vicious life cycle of disastrous relationships, it is essential to release these trapped negative emotions from your body.
When negative SEEs occur, feelings such as shock, surprise, fear or anger leaves a strong indelible imprint in your memory. Memories in the combined form of images, sounds, smells, tastes, words and feelings are permanently stored in your subconscious mind.
As a result, you must neutralize or transform negative memories into positive emotions. This is the best way to harness them into something positive in your life.
Here are some strategies to “convert” your negative SEEs to something empowering:
Coined by Harvard Medical School psychologist Susan David in her book Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life, emotional agility is about being less rigid and more flexible with our thoughts and feelings.
She explains that one of the strategies is to be mindful and accepting of your feelings. Do not punish yourself for having those feelings. Instead, approach it with self-compassion.
David claims that emotional agility gets you prepared to succeed in life because it’s about:
“…choosing how you’ll respond to your emotional warning system, about loosening up, calming down, and living with more intention.”
Reframing is a technique for altering your perception of something and, as a result, altering your experience of it. It has the ability to make you perceive a negative event as just a learning experience in your life.
Remember that you are the one who gives meaning to everything that happens in your life. You see these SEEs through the lens of a specific ‘frame.’
All you have to do is adjust the frame to perceive the positive sides of a SEEs that’s “deemed” negative.
Let’s return to the divorce scenario. To see the event in a positive light, you can think about it as an opportunity to meet new people. You can also see the event as a valuable lesson in relationships and life.
Negative SEEs can be worked on by practitioners of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP)*, Time Line Therapy, and hypnotherapy.
* NLP is a psychological technique for influencing your brain’s (Neuro) processing of the words you use (Linguistic) and how that impacts your past, present, and future (Programming).
Through therapy, your subconscious mind is given a new language and suggestions for change. Therefore, these memories are given new and positive “meaning.” In short, you will be able to “re-experience” these SEEs in a positive and empowering way.
If you spend too much time thinking about your negative emotions, it might become an obsession. Instead, be willing to accept and experience it. When you accept a negative emotion, it tends to lose its potency.
Accepting the emotion may help you better handle it and provide opportunities to learn more about it. Acceptance could be the first step toward coming to terms with the reality of your circumstance. It also implies that instead of expending energy attempting to get rid of it, you may simply flow with it.
Emotions, whether positive or negative, can help you navigate the present and plan for the future.
Studies have shown that unresolved negative emotions might lead to the development of symptoms and illness in your body.
Here is an exercise I often use in my therapy sessions. This enables you to release unwanted negative emotions from a SEE in your life.
As you examine this line, allow yourself to drift back to a time where the SEE happened in your life. How old were you? How did you look back then? What can you see in that past?
Imagine that the “you” in the past is about to go through the SEE. The “you” in the past had no awareness of the event. However, the “you” now (which in this exercise becomes the future “you”) has the wisdom, knowledge, and experience.
What knowledge or resources can you share with your younger self? This knowledge can help your younger self make an entirely different decision and create a new “meaning” to that SEE.
Notice how the “you” in the past reacts to the new experience as you bring him or her forward in time. As you change the whole “meaning” of the past experience, look into the future and notice your feelings now.