Negative Emotions: They Are Not as Difficult as You Think

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My favorite book on the topic of Negative Emotions is, “The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self – Not Just Your “Good” Self – Drives Success & Fulfillment”, By Todd Kashdan.  I think it does a fantastic job of illustrating the science behind embracing negative emotions, and challenges the idea that anger, guilt, regret, anxiety, sadness (etc.) have no place in a “happy” life. In fact, it is possible to harness these negative emotions to propel yourself into being a braver, more compassionate, stronger, more emotionally intelligent person.

Personally, I look at negative emotions as an internal signal that something in my environment needs to change. This can be for a number of reasons:

  • I perceive myself to be in danger; there is a threat
  • I am experiencing discomfort or pain
  • An action has been taken that is a violation of my values
  • More broadly, something is happening that isn’t serving my well-being in some way, shape or form.

This all sounds very logical, but it isn’t necessarily. Reality Testing (one of the markers of Emotional Intelligence) is the ability to remain objective so you can accurately identify emotions and deal with what is driving them. Depending on where one lies on the Reality Testing marker continuum, sometimes you make an accurate assessment… sometimes you don’t. So, perhaps there are times when I perceive myself to be in danger, when in reality – I am not.

In my case, if find that an inaccurate perception is more likely to occur when/if:

  • I have been sleeping poorly
  • I am hormonal
  • I experience a childhood trigger
  • I am triggered from moments in my life where I experienced pain for prolonged periods of time. This can be pain that was either self-inflicted, or the result of someone else inflicting it on me.
  • My constant investment in personal development and NLP is what helps me to navigate all of the above.

I could do a little “humble bragging” here about my EQ scores, as my Reality Testing score is quite high. Unfortunately, though, I am challenged by my lower Impulse Control score. This means that what keeps me from reacting impulsively is a mix of coping strategies and understanding how my body and brain responds to agitation.

An “emotional hijacking” happens when the part of the brain responsible for processing emotions literally shuts down the logical part of the brain and takes over. Depending on what the hot button is that triggers this, and who you are, that hijacking results in fear (phobia, anxiety, panic attack) or anger (agitation, anger, rage). My favorite go-to negative emotion is anger. Of course, in the end, everything that causes an emotional hijacking has “fear” or “threat” underlying it. What is your go-to negative emotion? Perhaps, this is something worthwhile for you to reflect on.

Let’s go over the 4 F’s of trauma which are also relevant here: Fight, flight, freeze and fawn.

  • Fight – Taking action to eliminate the danger
  • Flight – Escaping the danger
  • Freeze – Becoming immobile
  • Fawn – Pleasing the person who forms the threat
    I have maximum flexibility; I can do all 4. 🙂

A while back, I developed a Negative Emotion NLP Technique for myself that ended up being very effective for me. I have since taught it to some of my clients with equal success. When creating the technique I wanted a quick intervention for situations where I could feel my negative emotions dialing up…Not necessarily going from a zero to ten emotionally, but enough that I may do or say things that I would regret; or that could be perceived as irrational or inappropriate by someone who doesn’t know me or have the proper context.

The technique requires the following presuppositions (underlying beliefs held to be true):

  1. I believe that I have a dark passenger created by my genetics and past experiences.
  2. Everything we do, including fight, flight, freeze or fawn is a learned behavior.
  3. I can unlearn and relearn, but until I do, I am likely to act like my 3 year old self in adult form.
  4. I can be inaccurate in my thoughts and beliefs while still feeling accurate. I cannot always trust myself while I am experiencing a heightened negative emotion. I just understand that something needs to be done or changed.

The Negative Emotion NLP Technique:

  1. I consciously notice the first sign of the potential negative emotion that I cannot control. For me, this is my brain speeding up and becoming unfocused or “tangled”. (This was a learning process to discover.)
  2. I say to myself, “STOP.” (Inside my head.)
  3. I shift my internal focus to my breathing. Although I do not count, I take about 10 seconds to do this. (Scientific evidence shows that counting to 10 does actually work.)
  4. A.) I attempt to step out of my own body. I cannot always do this. If I can’t step out of my body, I know that I can physically remove myself from the situation – and if there is another person involved, I indicate that I will be back to talk.
    B.) I step out of my own body, regain control over my own brain and begin to feel it untangle itself. I then handle the situation.

If I fail at the NLP technique and end up losing it, I spend time reflecting on what it is that I must master-next in order to harness the negative emotion. Self-compassion is as important as the compassion we show for others.

After the situation is over, I am aware that this cycle will continue to happen unless I fix or address the underlying issue that caused the negative emotion to begin with; the hijacking will continue to impact my personal and/or professional life until I address the root cause. It’s ok to not have the answer on how to fix it NOW, but I must work at it in order to avoid a “Groundhog Day” of negative emotions.

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