Negative Emotions--The 3 Tactics Not to Use
When confronted with negative emotions or passions, your first concern should be not to make them worse. It’s like the saying about holes: “When you are in one, stop digging.”
If you happen to be gripped by a powerful one right now, realize that it is temporarily making clear thinking much more difficult. So, after reading this article, you might want to print it out and reread it later.
There are 3 chief ways that, unintentionally, people make them worse. Whether or not you try to heal or cure them, it’s a good tactic to avoid making them worse in the following three ways:
First, avoid adopting a bad attitude. What’s a bad attitude?
It is one that attempts to avoid responsibility. The truth you must realize is this: “I am solely responsible for the quality of my emotional life.” Nothing external to you, nothing outside you, can ever make you feel anything–unless you decide to let it. Something happens (whether or not it’s in your control), you notice it, and then you decide whether to react at all and, if so, how to react.
You may, in fact, put yourself through terrible suffering for a long time–never realizing that you are doing it to yourself!
The reason this is true is because every significant passion is composed of three parts: (1) a judgment about some state of affairs, (ii) an egocentric evaluation of that state of affairs, and (iii) a physiological feeling or set of bodily reactions. (For more details, see my HOW TO SURVIVE COLLEGE EMOTIONALLY). For example, (i) you learn that your mother has just been killed, (ii) you instantly think “this is bad for me,” and (iii) you begin crying from sadness. Without the second element, without thinking either “this is bad for me” or “this is good for me,” there would be no passion.
Even assuming that your judgment is correct, this immediately yields a possible way out of a negative emotion, namely, by revising the evaluation. After all, sometimes events that are initially negative turn out in the long run to have important positive consequences that outweigh the initial suffering.
So, accept full responsibility for the quality of your own life.
Second, avoid trying to ignore negative passions. This only postpones the inevitable and often makes suffering worse.
A negative emotion won’t disappear just because you distract yourself from attending to it. It will still be there leaking poison into your life. Ignoring a negative passion can be as foolish as ignoring a diagnosis of cancer.
When you have a big problem, admit it. You may be able to solve it, but big problems almost never get solved accidentally or by magic. Dealing effectively with a major problem requires admitting that the problem is real.
Besides, why lie to yourself? That’s all you are doing if you pretend not to notice a problem. In order to pretend that it isn’t real, you must think of its reality!
Third, avoid venting.
Venting is acting on the basis of a negative passion. For example, you get fired from your job and then punch a wall or get into a fist fight.
As a cure for negative passions, venting fails because it violates a fundamental psychological law, namely, whatever we think about expands in importance. The more you vent, the more you are thinking about your negative emotion; the more you are thinking about your negative emotion, the more important it becomes. Because it makes the emotion more powerful, venting merely increases your suffering.
Right actions diminish suffering while wrong actions increase suffering. Venting is a paradigmatic example of a wrong action.
If so, assume full responsibility for your emotional life. It’s normal to suffer emotionally! Elbert Hubbard: “If you suffer, thank God!–it is a sure sign that you are alive.”
An important negative emotion can seem like a huge obstacle to living well, but it is also an opportunity for learning better how to live well. If you will seize the opportunity and use it to teach yourself how to do better emotionally, there is no reason that, from an emotional perspective, your life cannot keep getting better and better. That’s really good news.
Before curing negative emotions, at least avoid making them worse by either trying to ignore them or venting them.
Don’t fight them. Instead, accept them. They are an important part of your life. On the other hand, don’t use them as motivations for wrong actions. Instead, adopt a middle way.
I learned a long time ago that successful people take full responsibility for their lives. I didn’t realize that included taking full responsibility for your emotions a well. Probably a good idea!
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