When we call an emotion a “negative emotion” it has more to do with our human urge to “negate” the feeling out of discomfort and to avoid taking responsibility for my feeling state. Emotions exist to raise awareness, not negate it.
Simply put: we don’t like to feel 'a certain kind of way', so we declare it a negative experience.
What would happen if your car’s GPS kept guiding you towards your destination but you didn’t like the route? You’d most likely take longer than necessary to get there, or perhaps never get there at all.
This is what happens when we deny ourselves emotional guidance.
Fear is not negative — without it I wouldn’t know when I’m in danger or when to question the intentions of people or the safety of my surroundings. Everyone experiences the emotion of fear. Having “no fear” is not a thing. Some folks know how to harness it better than others.
Hurt is not negative — how else would I know I need to retreat and nurse a physical or emotional wound?
Anger is not negative — it tells me to take intentional action in service of a problem or challenge I’m facing. Anger helps us get clear about what we want — and then energizes us to go get it. The post-election political activism is a collective expression of anger like few of us have ever seen.
Sadness is not negative — it is an emotional call for me to take time to heal, recover from burnout or grieve a loss. Your body may call for rest, exposure to nature or gathering with loved ones for emotional support.
Then there’s Joy. Is this a truly “positive” emotion? Is it better than other emotions? Not really. Joy informs us of how satisfying our experience is in the moment. Joy isn’t an emotional goal to strive towards. It’s simply another indicator of what my experience is at any given time.
Emotions are our ancient, internal GPS technology for navigating the human experience. They reveal our level of satisfaction and engagement with our surroundings and connections. They merge with our primal and executive brain functions to inform our decisions. Rather than label emotions as positive or negative and prefer some over others, it serves us to embrace the messages all of our emotions deliver to us and take the time to learn how to experience and take full responsibility for the expression of our feelings. I call this skill Emotional Fitness. This is a measure of how quickly our emotional GPS can recover and re-calibrate after Life puts a detour in our path.
That last line really bugs me. Emotions are for our good. Telling ourselves —or anyone else—not to cry is a selfish act that denies another human being the very thing that makes us human—feelings.
We need those emotional pressure valves to allow us to release our feelings in healthy ways—or we will explode in an unexpected moment of overwhelm.
The next time you experience any of those “unwanted” emotions, take a moment to reflect on what response that emotion is asking you for. Suspend your default reaction to stuff down your feelings in that moment, and allow your emotional GPS to “re-rout” you towards healing and wholeness.
Kevin Anthony Johnson is an ICF-certified life coach with over 20 years of experience with leaders at every level of life. His work and writing centers on relationships with self, others and community. His latest book,”The 7 Breaths of Conscious Dating: A Mindful Approach to Dating, Self-Discovery & Finding Authentic Love” is available on Amazon.com