Why we call them "difficult" emotions not "negative" emotions

. 2 min read
The All Mental Health Team

You've probably heard of meditations, therapy, and skills to help reduce negative emotions.

Usually, the "negative" list is made up of feelings like anger, sadness, fear, jealousy, disgust, and grief.

And it's true: no one really likes feeling that way.

But there's an intelligence to every emotion. Each feeling gives us the opportunity to understand ourselves more deeply, so we can react in a healthy way.

That's why we prefer calling them difficult, rather than negative. Sure, they're uncomfortable. They can throw us off, and feel overwhelming or unwanted. But in the range of the human experience, maybe the goal isn't simply to be happy all the time.

We'll be taking a deeper dive into each difficult emotion, exploring the intelligence of feelings and how they can guide us to take healthy action.

For each intense emotion you experience, it can be helpful to pause and ask yourself a few questions:

  • What is this feeling trying to tell me?
  • How does this emotion make me want to act? What's my gut reaction?
  • How does it feel in my physical body? Are there any changes in my breath?
  • What does this emotion make me feel about myself? What does this emotion make me feel about other people? About the world?
  • How safe or unsafe does it feel to experience this feeling?
  • What does society tell me about this emotion?
  • What are some options for healthy expression of this emotion?

Let's take anger, for example.

Say I'm angry because I just noticed that my roommate left stuff all over the living room (again!)

The feeling is trying to tell me that my boundaries have been crossed, and that something needs to change in my living situation.

My gut reaction is to send a passive aggressive text to my roommate right away, so she can tell I'm frustrated.

Physically, I feel tightness in my chest, and I feel like I have more energy in my arms and hands (almost like they're buzzing).

It makes me feel like I keep getting shortchanged in our home situation, and that my roommate is insensitive, and the world is generally inconvenient, or annoying in this moment.

It doesn't feel unsafe for me to experience this level of anger right now.

Society does tell me, though, that anger is generally an unflattering or unwelcome emotion, so it's kind of uncomfortable to experience.

And finally, a healthy expression could be setting a boundary with my roommate, but I'm going to take a pause and think about how I want to communicate it (so maybe I'll hold off on that text for now...)

At Otherside, we'll be exploring difficult emotions together. Next time you notice yourself experiencing sadness, anger, or another uncomfortable emotion, see if you can give yourself permission to pause and understand your feeling more fully.

As a bonus, we love this atlas of emotions (supported by the Dalai Lama).