I have been a student and teacher of self-help and self-development for more than 20 years, and I am a firm believer in the benefits of a positive attitude. I know that a positive attitude will help you to do anything better than a negative attitude will. However, I have found that currently there is an almost obsessive focus on always feeling good, always feeling positive, and always feeling wonderful. It has almost reached epidemic proportions.
For many years this emphasis on always feeling good left me feeling broken because negative emotions would always pop up within me. I felt guilty for having them and felt that I had to fix something within myself. So I read, listened to, and applied everything I could find in an effort to ‘fix’ myself, but negative emotions kept popping up, and I couldn’t figure out what was ‘wrong’ with me.
Eventually, I learned that there was nothing wrong with me. I was taught that negative emotions are natural, expected, and to my surprise, they can be very useful and powerful.
Any time we are trying something new, or stepping outside of our comfort zone we are going to feel some negative emotions. Any time we are heavily invested in a result, or making ourselves vulnerable by taking a risk, we are going to feel negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, doubt, anger, and frustration. In other words, anytime we are doing the things we need to do in order to create massive change in our lives, we should expect negative emotions to spring up. We are supposed to. It’s a natural part of the process.
Here are the three ways I have found that negative emotions can be empowering and help us to move our lives forward:
1) They are an indication that you should have more, and better
Many negative emotions are caused by our discomfort with our current situation. Be this situation work-related, a personal relationship, or a financial matter, the gap between what we are currently experiencing and what we know we should be experiencing creates stress within us. This stress is an indicator not only of what we should change in our lives, but also that we can change it. If we did not know deep inside that we deserved more and better, and that we could have more and better then we would simply become accustomed to it and accept it.
2) They help us to discern what we truly want
I have worked with many people who have a hard time deciding what they really want in their lives. When we begin to focus on it they normally generate a list of common desires that society says everyone should want – fame, wealth, luxury, and occasionally, altruism. But we are all individuals with a unique combination of desires. I know some people who need to live in a mansion, while others are completely happy living in a yurt.
In order to find the true inner motivation we need to discover what we really want as individuals, and it is usually not the list that society constantly tells us we should want. When people have a hard time listing their true inner desires we try a different technique. We list everything they don’t want. We list everything that makes them mad, frustrated, and irritated. For most people, this is a much easier list to create, and it is also much longer.
After this list is complete we make a new list of things that are the opposite of the negative list we just created. The items, events, and themes on this list inevitably, and quickly, lead us to their true inner desires and motivations. If you’re not sure what you do want in life, focus on what drives you crazy, and work on changing that in the world.
3) They provide us the energy to move forward
Have you ever accomplished something just because you were mad, frustrated, or pissed off? Of course you have! This is an example of leveraging the energy of negative emotions. Negative emotions only hold us back when we hold them inside, suppress them, and try to pretend they’re not there.
When we use their energy productively and focus in on taking action to change the situation, then they will help us to move forward very quickly. Please note that I said ‘when we use them productively’. If we are not careful and in control then negative emotions can be released in a negative way and damage us, and those around us. I find that this usually happens when they have been bottled up for a long time, and then explode uncontrollably from within us.
However, we can also direct this energy into constructive, useful action. When we do release the negative energy we have been holding inside we be feeling much healthier and fulfilled.
It is okay to feel negative emotions. They are natural. They have a purpose.