On Negative Emotions and Thoughts

Simply within a minute into this Jordan Bach video, he says:

We have to get to a place where we can align our minds away from fear and back to love. If we want to attract good experiences into our lives, and be happy. So, how do we go about doing that?

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Let’s take a deeper look into this. This article better articles that depth:

The emotions expressed by humans can be divided into two broad categories. We can regard them as polarized, as opposite of each other, or we could just say that there is a dividing line where one type of emotions change into the other type of emotions.

We can call the two types of emotions Negative and Positive. That is not so much as value judgment as it is a description of the main action of each group. Judging either as “good” or “bad” isn’t very helpful.

Negative emotions express an attempt or intention to Exclude. Strengthening one’s own position at the expense of others. Keeping bad stuff away, destroying what is perceived as a threat. Negative emotions are fueled by an underlying fear of the unknown, a fear of the actions of others, and a need to control them or stop them to avoid being harmed.

Positive emotions express an attempt or an intention to Include. Taking the whole into consideration. Working on learning more viewpoints, interacting more with others, enjoying making things better. Positive emotions are fueled by an underlying desire for enjoyment and unity.

Negative emotions are, for example: apathy, grief, fear, hatred, shame, blame, regret, resentment, anger, hostility.

Positive emotions are, for example: interest, enthusiasm, boredom, laughter, empathy, action, curiosity.

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The Moon and Ocean Spirits as depicted in the Avatar: The Last Airbender story, “The Siege of the North.”

Addressing emotions or thoughts simply as polarities is not of good practice though. Emotions are more like Yin and Yang, in Taoism. Just like Yin and Yang, emotions are neither absolute, or static:

Neither Yin nor Yang are absolute. Nothing is completely Yin or completely Yang. Each aspect contains the beginning point for the other aspect. For example: day becomes night and then night becomes day…Yin and Yang are interdependent upon each other so that the definition of one requires the definition for the other to be complete.

Yin Yang is not static. The nature of Yin and Yang flows and changes with time. A simple example is thinking about how the day gradually flows into night. However, the length of day and night are changing. As the earth ages, its spin is slowing causing the length of day and night to get longer. Day and night are not static entities.Sometimes changes in the relationship between Yin and Yang can be dramatic where one aspect can literally just transform into the other. As an example: some species of fish have females that transform quickly into males when the population of males aren’t enough.

This article elaborates further:

There is a range of different emotions in each category. We could say that some are more positive or negative than others. But it isn’t necessarily practical to place them on a linear scale, since each one is a composite of various elements.

Some emotions camouflage as positive or negative, but really are the opposite of what they pretend. There is a type of pity which appears as genuine concern for others, but which is rather taking comfort in that somebody else is worse off than you. There is a covert hostility that masks as friendliness, which can often be difficult to assess at first. Likewise, some kinds of anger or tears might look negative, but might really be an expression of involvement and care for the whole. It is the underlying mechanism and motivation that counts, more than the superficial outward manifestation.

It might sound like the negative emotions are just something to get rid of. It is not that simple, however. They serve important functions. Basically they show that there is something one doesn’t know and can’t deal with. If that becomes motivation to then learn it and deal with it, that is very useful. If one is always joyful, one might miss noticing things that are wrong.

Positive and negative emotions are polarities. We can’t get rid of one and just keep the other. Ultimately they need to be integrated.

Typically, negative emotion in a client will point us towards areas that need to be processed. They show that there is something there that the person isn’t dealing with. We would make her deal with them and transform them into something more useful and enjoyable.

The negative emotions are useful as motivation for moving away from what one doesn’t want. The positive emotions are useful as motivation for moving towards what one does want.

Trouble enters when parts of the system get stuck. Particularly when the functions get reversed and the person starts moving towards what she doesn’t want. Therefore, stuck negative emotions are a prime target for processing.

People might express all sorts of combinations of these emotions. Some people will be fairly chronically stuck in a negative emotion, like grief for example. Others might be stuck in a positive one, like contentment, and won’t be able to experience negative emotions, even when appropriate.

Others will in stressful situations react according to certain emotional patterns. Like, a person might have hidden grief or fear that gets triggered by certain circumstances. A casual remark might push a button that unleashes pent-up anger.

The aim in processing is to make people more fluid in terms of emotion. Able to use whatever emotion is most appropriate, and being able to use the full range as necessary. Most likely a person who is fluid and flexible will choose to live mostly in a positive frame of mind. But the goal is actually integration, moving beyond the positive/negative idea altogether.

This Scientific American article, “Negative Emotions Are Key to Well-Being” explains in greater detail:

A client sits before me, seeking help untangling his relationship problems. As a psychotherapist, I strive to be warm, nonjudgmental and encouraging. I am a bit unsettled, then, when in the midst of describing his painful experiences, he says, “I’m sorry for being so negative.”

A crucial goal of therapy is to learn to acknowledge and express a full range of emotions, and here was a client apologizing for doing just that. In my psychotherapy practice, many of my clients struggle with highly distressing emotions, such as extreme anger, or with suicidal thoughts. In recent years I have noticed an increase in the number of people who also feel guilty or ashamed about what they perceive to be negativity. Such reactions undoubtedly stem from our culture’s overriding bias toward positive thinking. Although positive emotions are worth cultivating, problems arise when people start believing they must be upbeat all the time.

In fact, anger and sadness are an important part of life, and new research shows that experiencing and accepting such emotions are vital to our mental health. Attempting to suppress thoughts can backfire and even diminish our sense of contentment. “Acknowledging the complexity of life may be an especially fruitful path to psychological well-being,” says psychologist Jonathan M. Adler of the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering.

Positive thoughts and emotions can, of course, benefit mental health. Hedonic theories define well-being as the presence of positive emotion, the relative absence of negative emotion and a sense of life satisfaction. Taken to an extreme, however, that definition is not congruent with the messiness of real life. In addition, people’s outlook can become so rosy that they ignore dangers or become complacent [see “Can Positive Thinking Be Negative?” by Scott O. Lilienfeld and Hal Arkowitz; Scientific American Mind, May/June 2011].

Eudaemonic approaches, on the other hand, emphasize a sense of meaning, personal growth and understanding of the self—goals that require confronting life’s adversities. Unpleasant feelings are just as crucial as the enjoyable ones in helping you make sense of life’s ups and downs. “Remember, one of the primary reasons we have emotions in the first place is to help us evaluate our experiences,” Adler says.

Adler and Hal E. Hershfield, a professor of marketing at New York University, investigated the link between mixed emotional experience and psychological welfare in a group of people undergoing 12 sessions of psychotherapy. Before each session, participants completed a questionnaire that assessed their psychological well-being. They also wrote narratives describing their life events and their time in therapy, which were coded for emotional content. As Adler and Hershfield reported in 2012, feeling cheerful and dejected at the same time—for example, “I feel sad at times because of everything I’ve been through, but I’m also happy and hopeful because I’m working through my issues”—preceded improvements in well-being over the next week or two for subjects, even if the mixed feelings were unpleasant at the time. “Taking the good and the bad together may detoxify the bad experiences, allowing you to make meaning out of them in a way that supports psychological well-being,” the researchers found.

Negative emotions also most likely aid in our survival. Bad feelings can be vital clues that a health issue, relationship or other important matter needs attention, Adler points out. The survival value of negative thoughts and emotions may help explain why suppressing them is so fruitless. In a 2009 study psychologist David J. Kavanagh of Queensland University of Technology in Australia and his colleagues asked people in treatment for alcohol abuse and addiction to complete a questionnaire that assessed their drinking-related urges and cravings, as well as any attempts to suppress thoughts related to booze over the previous 24 hours. They found that those who often fought against intrusive alcohol-related thoughts actually harbored more of them. Similar findings from a 2010 study suggested that pushing back negative emotions could spawn more emotional overeating than simply recognizing that you were, say, upset, agitated or blue.

Even if you successfully avoid contemplating a topic, your subconscious may still dwell on it. In a 2011 study psychologist Richard A. Bryant and his colleagues at the University of New South Wales in Sydney told some participants, but not others, to suppress an unwanted thought prior to sleep. Those who tried to muffle the thought reported dreaming about it more, a phenomenon called dream rebound.

Suppressing thoughts and feelings can even be harmful. In a 2012 study psychotherapist Eric L. Garland of Florida State University and his associates measured a stress response based on heart rate in 58 adults in treatment for alcohol dependence while exposing them to alcohol-related cues. Subjects also completed a measure of their tendency to suppress thoughts. The researchers found that those who restrained their thinking more often had stronger stress responses to the cues than did those who suppressed their thoughts less frequently.

Instead of backing away from negative emotions, accept them. Acknowledge how you are feeling without rushing to change your emotional state. Many people find it helpful to breathe slowly and deeply while learning to tolerate strong feelings or to imagine the feelings as floating clouds, as a reminder that they will pass. I often tell my clients that a thought is just a thought and a feeling just a feeling, nothing more.

If the emotion is overwhelming, you may want to express how you feel in a journal or to another person. The exercise may shift your perspective and bring a sense of closure. If the discomfort lingers, consider taking action. You may want to tell a friend her comment was hurtful or take steps to leave the job that makes you miserable.

You may also try doing mindfulness exercises to help you become aware of your present experience without passing judgment on it. One way to train yourself to adopt this state is to focus on your breathing while meditating and simply acknowledge any fleeting thoughts or feelings. This practice may make it easier to accept unpleasant thoughts [see “Being in the Now,” by Amishi P. Jha; Scientific American Mind, March/April 2013]. Earlier this year Garland and his colleagues found that among 125 individuals with a history of trauma who were also in treatment for substance dependence, those who were naturally more mindful both coped better with their trauma and craved their drug less. Likewise, in a 2012 study psychologist Shannon Sauer-Zavala of Boston University and her co-workers found that a therapy that included mindfulness training helped individuals overcome anxiety disorders. It worked not by minimizing the number of negative feelings but by training patients to accept those feelings.

“It is impossible to avoid negative emotions altogether because to live is to experience setbacks and conflicts,” Sauer-Zavala says. Learning how to cope with those emotions is the key, she adds. Indeed, once my client accepted his thoughts and feelings, shaking off his shame and guilt, he saw his problems with greater clarity and proceeded down the path to recovery.

According to this Huffington Post article, “How To Turn Negative Emotions Into Your Greatest Advantage,” here are seven ways that negative emotions can be a proven benefit, rather than detractor:

Anger can be fueled into creativity.

Negative emotions sometimes stifle creativity, but science suggests that they can also be used to spark it. Recently, Ghent University researchers studied the habits of 100 creative professionals, having them rate their emotions at the beginning and end of each day. They found that those who stared the day with negative emotions but ended it with positive ones had the greatest creative output — uniformly, the most productive days were those that began with some sort of negativity, meaning that they channeled their anger into their work 99U reported. In a separate experiment, the researchers found that negative emotions could help subjects focus longer while brainstorming.

“When you’re in a bad mood, it may be best to return to a particularly difficult problem or a project that has stalled out,” Myths Of Creativity author David Burkus wrote on 99U. “Think of the negative emotion as fuel that you can burn on the path to creation. The negative emotions might just help you dig deeper into the problem and find a solution your happier self would never have uncovered.”

Struggling with adversity can profoundly alter your perspective.

The old cliche that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger might have some truth to it. Life’s greatest challenges can be opportunities for significant personal growth and development. Many people say that life-threatening health scares became blessings in disguise that fundamentally altered their perspectives and highlighted what’s really important in life.

“On reflection, I realized that my most valuable lessons arose from difficulties and setbacks I had to confront, and imperfections I had to accept,” Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal, author of The Gift Of Adversity, wrote in a Huffington Post blog. “Paradoxically, these adversities yielded unexpected gifts.”

Sometimes these unexpected gifts come in the form of a new career path or life direction. When 32-year-old Kris Carr was diagnosed with a rare and untreatable form of cancer, she didn’t lose hope: Instead, she challenged her diagnosis and turned to holistic healthcare, eventually becoming a wellness expert and New York Times-bestselling author. Now, she spreads inspiration to thousands who are looking to live healthier lifestyles.

Working through shame can help you cultivate compassion.

What did Daring Greatly author Brene Brown discover in more than a decade of researching shame and vulnerability? “Shame is deadly,” she told Oprah. “And I think we are swimming in it deep.”

Shame — that painful feeling of humiliation or distress rooted in the belief that we’re somehow deficient — is what causes us to avoid connecting with others for fear that they’ll see the flaws we are trying to hide. But the one upside of shame is that we can overcome it, building greater connections with others and becoming more compassionate towards ourselves and others.

“Shame depends on me buying into the belief that I’m alone,” Brown says. “Shame cannot survive being spoken … It cannot survive empathy.”

Pessimism can make you more productive.

As a culture, we tend to prize looking on the bright side over seeing the glass half empty. But optimism untempered by some degree of negativity or pessimism isn’t necessarily a productive attitude. As Wharton professor Adam Grant explains in a LinkedIn blog post, studies show that “defensive pessimists” — those who tend to picture what could go wrong in any given situation — perform just as well as “strategic optimists” in a variety of tasks.

“At first, I asked how these people were able to do so well despite their pessimism,” psychologist Julie Norem writes in The Positive Power of Negative Thinking. “Before long, I began to realize that they were doing so well because of their pessimism … negative thinking transformed anxiety into action.”

Ultimately, Grant notes, what most determines success is achieving the right balance between optimism and pessimism, and choosing preparation strategies that match your thinking styles.

“If you’re a defensive pessimist, when preparing for a performance that really matters, you might want to list your weaknesses instead of your strengths, and drink a glass of anxiety rather than a shot of confidence,” Grant writes.

Envy can spur you to become better.

From a young age, we’re told to beware the green-eyed monster. Envy can trigger us to feel that who we are and what we have is in some way lacking. But the emotion (in its more benign form) can actually spur us to better ourselves, according to a recent Scientific American article.

“After you realize other people don’t necessarily have everything you think you want, the next logical step is to figure out what that really is. What is it you really envy? Your sister’s boyfriend, or a sense of belonging? Your cousin’s job, or a sense of accomplishment? Your uncle’s schedule, or a sense of adventure?,” writes Lori Deschene, founder of Tiny Buddha, in blog post. “You can have everything you want in life if identify specifically what those things are, and accept they may look different for you than they do for someone else.”

Loss can lead to gratitude.

It can sometimes take losing something important to us to feel grateful for what we still have. But in the long term, overwhelming loss can become a powerful catalyst for deep, life-affirming gratitude.

Lynne Hughes, founder of Comfort Zone Camp for Grieving Children, says that losing both her parents at a young age ultimately taught her to appreciate the gifts, both big and small, that stem from every relationship in her life.

“That’s one of the gifts and lessons from loss,” Hughes wrote in a 2011 HuffPost blog. “Sprinkled with sadness, I felt blessed for the moments I had and the unexpected gifts that [my relationships] gave.”

Negative thoughts and emotions present an opportunity to cultivate mindfulness.

The practice of mindfulness — which aims to cultivate a focused awareness on the present moment — can change our relationship with negative emotions, allowing us to experience them without judgement or shame.

“Feeling bad about having a negative emotion is a surefire way to compound and amplify the situation,” writes Google’s Search Inside Yourself Training Program. “You can quickly build a tower of negative emotions that can all come crumbling down.”

But as Tibetan Buddhist teach Sogyal Rinpoche explains, mindfulness practices like meditation allow us to experience negative thoughts and emotions without judgment, resistance or struggle. He writes in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying:

“We often wonder what to do about negativity or certain troubling emotions. In the spaciousness of meditation, you can view your thoughts and emotions with a totally unbiased attitude. When your attitude changes, then the whole atmosphere of your mind changes, even the very nature of your thoughts and emotions. When you become more agreeable, then they do; if you have no difficulty with them, they will have no difficulty with you either.”

And here are four more from the Elite Daily article, “7 Negative Emotions That Actually Have Really Positive Effects On Your Life“:

Sadness makes you pay attention to detail

It’s important to note that here, sadness does not mean clinical depression. In an article for UC Berkeley, social psychologist Joesph F. Forgas discussed how periods of sadness make us pay more attention to external details, which provide a wide range of benefits in information processing.

In an email to The Huffington Post, Forgas writes:

In a sense, good moods signal that the situation is safe, familiar and that existing responses are appropriate. Negative mood in turn signals that the situation is new, challenging and the greater attention to new information is required to produce an effective response.

Being attentive to detail means you’re more in-tune with yourself and your surroundings.

With these detail-oriented benefits of sadness, you’ll have an improved memory, you’ll be able to make more accurate judgments of others and you’ll be more attentive to needing to make changes in your life.

Even more so, these benefits help you communicate your feelings better, construct more persuasive arguments and utilize your hyper awareness of your emotions for creative endeavors.

Guilt improves your moral compass

Guilt, that nagging feeling that comes when we do something wrong, is our moral compass, controlling our levels of social sensitivity and inherent need to be a good person.

In his book “The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self — Not Just Your ‘Good’ Self — Drives Success And Fulfillment,” psychologist Todd Kashdan tells the Huffington Post that “adults prone to feeling guilty were less likely to drunk drive, steal, use illegal drugs, or assault another person.”

Experiencing guilt is our brain’s way of punishing us when we do something wrong. It might feel terrible in the moment, but if you’ve ever felt guilty for doing something bad, it means your morals are in check.

Mindlessness heightens your creativity

Mindlessness — in other words, “zoning out” or “having a brain fart” — might seem bothersome when we’re trying to complete important tasks. However, there are a number of benefits to zoning out, which is good news, considering we do it about 50 percent of the time.

Kashdan tells New York Magazine that zoning out is “the incubation period of creativity.” When we zone out, our minds are pulled toward unresolved issues and future goals.

Ideas we never thought to combine start making sense together in our heads. In this way, the benefits of zoning out are often private and personal, which is why they may normally go unnoticed by other people.

It makes sense, really. We’re all familiar with the “aha!” moment, when a burst of insight about a problem suddenly enters our brains when it’s least expected.

This burst can happen during the most mundane of tasks: in the shower, while doing a homework assignment, in the midst of a scroll through a social media news feed.

It’s when you pay the loosest, most unfocused attention to an issue that you’re able to resolve it.

Anger motivates you to patch up conflict

There are indeed strong correlations between anger and aggression-driven conflict and violence. However, Howard Kassinove, PhD, co-author with R. Chip Tafrate, PhD, of “Anger Management: The Complete Treatment Guidebook for Practice,” says that “In fact, anger seems to be followed by aggression only about 10 percent of the time, and lots of aggression occurs without any anger.”

Anger encourages you to come up with “active, approach-oriented steps towards the goal of addressing the wrongdoings that instigated [your] anger,” so it’s beneficial in helping solve problems.

In a 2002 study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology and a 1997 study in the Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, participants reported that positive outcomes arose from anger. Anger helped fix problems in relationships and fostered a greater understanding between the target of conflict and the person who had the conflict.

Regarding the studies, Kassinove notes, “While assertive expression is always preferable to angry expression, anger may serve an important alerting function that leads to deeper understanding of the other person and the problem.”

The American Psychological Association says that anger must “fill a constructive framework” in order to be successful, and it’s important to deal with anger before it causes problems.

Unexpressed anger or anger that isn’t used constructively can morph into “undesirable expressions of the emotion,” while internalized anger can cause “depression, health problems and communication difficulties.”

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