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  • Writer's pictureAnna Knight

There are no "negative" emotions

In my other role, I am an autism specialist - that means I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about emotions there too. People often categorise emotions into "positive" (happy, excited, relaxed...) and "negative" emotions (angry, sad, anxious...) The idea being, we want kids to experience more of the "good" ones and less of the "bad".

Only... that's not how the world is set up. As an adult, my days generally encompass a wide spread of emotions - its a series of rolling "ups" and "downs" and I've learned some strategies to cope with them in a way that keeps me moving through my day with ease. Mostly, anyway. I'm guessing it's the same for you?

Where we can get tripped up is our reactions to some of these emotions. Anger, shame, fear, sadness - all of them feel bad, but that doesn't make them inherently bad. What if we had a new way to look at them?

What if they were called "uncomfortable" instead?

The difference between "negative" and "uncomfortable" can be incredibly liberating. Very few people want to be "bad" (except maybe with a lover, you do you). But humans have a remarkable ability to tolerate being uncomfortable, especially if there's something in it for us. If we can sit with these uncomfortable emotions, we can listen to our body and our brain to find out just what is going on.

Take anger, for instance. Anger is often a signal that someone has crossed one of our boundaries, beliefs or one of our values. I get angry when people are disrespectful to me - respect for others is one of my big driving values. I get angry when politicians make decisions based on profits, not people - I'm all about that "for the many, not the few" approach. I get angry a lot. As Glennon Doyle says - if you're not angry in 2020, you're not paying attention.

So here's the key question: what do you do with that anger?

Do you use it to put boundaries in place? Used right, anger shows us where our internal lines are, and it can then be a helpful nudge to get clear boundaries set up and to stay resolved when someone tramples them.

Do you use it to create change? Again, anger can be transformative on a local, national and global level. How many of us out there can live our lives as out and proud queer people because 51 years ago, riots started at The Stonewall Inn and got the gay rights movement into motion? How many of us witnessed the power of the Black Lives Matter movement this year, and kept us all present to and learning about systems of oppression that are operating now?

Or... do you push it away? "Good people aren't angry!" "It's better to take the high road!" "I just don't get angry!" I'm yet to meet someone so enlightened that they can just let their anger float away on a magic cloud of acceptance. What I do see is a lot of people storing up their anger in a deep dark part of their minds and bodies marked DO NOT TOUCH.

There's a couple of downsides to that last approach. First off, living in the chemical soup of emotions that anger fills our body with on a long term basis feels awful. It can trigger or increase health conditions, slow down our thinking and make everything feel like too much effort. Long term anger can make us sick.

If we hold on to these emotions long term, they don't tend to stay the same. Stored up anger, for example, might turn into depression. Blocking one emotion tends to suppress some others, leading to less enjoyment of life. Add to that some feelings of frustration at life, your situation or the world and you've got the perfect recipe for a depressive episode.

Lastly, we might explode and express that anger at the wrong target. Imagine all this stored anger in a metaphorical bucket inside your body. If the bucket is close to overflowing, tiny things can be enough to tip is over the edge. Have you ever exploded at your partner, your kids or even inanimate objects over something small? At the time, it can seem like the final straw, but when we've calmed down and seen the situation more clearly then shame and feelings of guilt can take over.

So what do we do about it?

You've got a few options. A good dance party for one with some angry music can be a brilliant way to let the feelings out of your body. Feisty exercise works for some people. Having a scream into a tea towel is another great one. These stored emotions are in our bodies, so it makes sense that we can use our bodies to empty our "bucket" too.

Another method that works for me is journaling. Getting out all your frustration from your brain onto the page can free up so much of your brain space. Even better - you don't have to reread your writing at the end, or even keep hold of it. There's something really cathartic about ripping it all to pieces and dumping it once you're done!

If your anger has deeper roots, you might need someone to guide you through the process. There are a number of meditations and release processes that will help you release some uncomfortable emotions and create a well of energy within you. If this sounds appealing, click the button below to book a chat and we can come up with a plan.

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