How to deal with negative emotions

We all have emotions we’d rather not have. Perhaps you feel anxious before a meeting. Afraid to be a nuisance. Regret over something you’ve done. Needing other’s approval. Fear of not having enough money. Sad about not being understood. Feeling not okay. Sorry for yourself. Afraid of being found out. It can be a lot of things.

But how do you deal with them?

The key is to allow them to be.

Our natural reaction is to avoid negative feelings, suppress them, ignore them, resist them. We want the negative emotions to go away because they’re painful. If only we could be positive and resourceful all the time, we’d be happy.

Sure, but that’s never going to happen.

Negative emotions are part of life. They’re there whether you want them or not. You can choose to resist them, which only causes them to grow stronger and stay longer. Or you can invite them in, and they’ll flow through you and make room for other emotions. Life is a river, let it flow.

For this exercise, start with a situation where you felt something uncomfortable.

So close your eyes and take a few minutes to get present. Feel your body from the inside. If this is the first time you do this, it can be quite a pleasant surprise to feel the warm subtle vibration of life.

Start by holding out your left hand, palm up, and without moving or touching it, just feel it from the inside. Be with that for a minute, focusing all your attention on sensing your hand. Then do the same with your right hand. Then your feet. And finally your entire body.

Now, think back to that situation where you had a negative emotion. Replay the scenario in your mind and really get back into the feeling.

Then ask yourself: For this moment, can I allow this to be?

For most people, that’s an eye-opening right there. Most people never thought you could just stay with the feeling. But you can, and it turns out they’re not really that dangerous.

Notice the direct sensory experience of the emotion. Not your interpretation of what it means. The sensation. Locate the emotion. It can be a tightening in your neck or shoulders. A pit in your stomach. A bleeding sadness in your heart. It’ll always have some representation in your body.

Now just be with that emotion for a while. Allow it to be. Meet it with love and understanding.

Know that it’s a part of you that got stuck when you were young and didn’t know how to deal with the emotion. All this time, it’s just been asking to be seen and loved. And all this time you’ve kept rejecting it.

So let today be the day you change that. You’re able to deal with the emotion now. Invite it in. Meet it with love.

While you’re still in this state, ask yourself what you truly need. Maybe you need some time alone, a pause, maybe you need to love yourself more, breathe quietly, go to a sauna, whatever. Just quietly wait for the answer, if one comes. If not, that’s fine, too.

Stay with the emotion and the question for as long as you can. They say that a shift happens after 19 minutes. I’ve never timed it, but I’ve definitely experienced how I suddenly fell deeper into consciousness after what felt like a long while. But don’t let that scare you. A minute or two is much better than nothing.

And don’t worry if you have trouble staying focused. Your mind is going to be afraid and try to talk you out of it. “What a waste of time.” “Am I doing this right?” “I’m losing concentration now, might as well quit.”

Just notice the thoughts, know they’re just thoughts, and bring your attention back to the direct sensory experience of your body. Praise yourself every time you get your attention back on your body after your thoughts have drifted. Praise yourself for making the effort.

It can be much easier if you get someone experienced to help you. I often have my coach help me, where we sit in silence on the phone together for up to an hour. Having him there helps me get much deeper into presence than I’m able to on my own. I have no idea why it works, but it does.

What you’ll find over time as you do this that the emotions will stop having power over you. It turns out they’re not dangerous at all. They’re just there. A little tightening in my shoulders. So what? We run away scared from them, but the reality is they’re the ones that are scared and need a little love.

Some of them will stop visiting altogether. Most will keep coming back for a while and bring you new opportunities for getting to know yourself. Once you’ve healed some of them, others will start making themselves known. And that’s great, now you know what to do with them.

There are other techniques you can employ, certain visualizations you can do, entering into dialog, etc. But it’s all based around this core of getting present and meeting what is with love.

Play with this over the holidays. Christmas is a time when you’re probably with your parents again, and parents have this uncanny ability to bring up all sorts of negative emotions that you thought you were over.

That’s wonderful! Because now you know what to do with them.

Let me know how it goes.


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