Mental health is all about emotional connection and acceptance. Our habit of judging and neglecting negative emotions, as well as our obsession with controlling them, often makes us more unhappy and unbalanced. If you are tired of fighting against yourself and the way you feel, and would like to rebuild a healthier relationship with your emotions, here is how to accept negative emotions:
1- Connect with the body
Emotions are expressed in the body. Therefore, anyone who wishes to fully connect with their emotions does so, primarily, through a reconnection with the body. You can achieve that through exploring bodily sensations such as those of tension and lightness. If you struggle to identify emotions, exploring your bodily sensations will give you a good sense of the impact your own thoughts and experiences have on you.
2- Become consciously aware of the presence of negative emotions
Instead of diverging your focus away from negative emotions or doing your utmost to repress or control them, become fully aware of their presence. You can do that by moving your attention towards them and creating a mental map of where they are felt in the body through direct observation of their intensity and movement, as well as the effect they have on you.
3- Observe them without judgement
Most of us were raised in a culture of emotional neglect in which “negative” emotions are thought to be an inconvenience that should be dealt with as soon as possible. Such attitude tends to be unproductive, however, since it has the potential of creating an even bigger problem. Avoiding, denying or repressing negative emotions are dysfunctional behaviours that often lead to emotional and physical problems. To prevent that from happening, just let them let them be and resist the urge to do something about them.
4- Validate their right to exist
Because all emotions are part of us, when we deny their wisdom and value, openly rejecting them through repression, avoidance or denial, we do so to the detriment of our own selves. Even when they do not seem coherent at first glance, they have a right to be brought to awareness. Every time you recognise a negative emotion with openness and respect, you become whole and complete in yourself.
5- Befriend your body
To become more tolerant of negative emotions, it is essential that you see your body as a friend. Self-love and acceptance is only viable through a strong alliance with our whole selves, mind and body. To befriend your body, change your beliefs about “negative” bodily sensations and emotions by regarding them as normal expressions of the self. Seeing them as fleeting also helps you approach them with patience, understanding and kindness.
The benefits of focusing your attention on emotions go beyond emotional regulation and wellbeing, but also help enhance your concentration abilities and regulate impulsive behaviour. To get the most out of the above, be mindful of how you feel and do what you can to remind yourself to think and act differently when worrying excessively or feeling anxious.
Despite enabling us to identify our needs and act in our best interest, anger is a misunderstood emotion. Because we tend to see anger in all-or-nothing terms, it is often perceived as a dysfunctional emotional expression. While anger tends to be connected to relationship problems and even abuse, it is not at all times experienced in its extreme form or linked to irrational behaviour. Anger also comes in a wide range of feelings and intensities, each with its own function and message, some of which are very powerful and motivational. To help you gain a greater understanding and respect for you anger, this article is dedicated to exploring it in detail.
The role of anger
Be it in its passive or more active form, anger is a sign that we feel wronged by something or someone. When angry, we are reacting to an attack – real or imaginary – to our self-esteem, which leads us to feeling rejected, ignored, isolated, hurt or criticised. Anger also works as to give us back what we have lost from that (perceived) violation, namely, the respect and love for our own selves. Furthermore, anger is there to help us regain a sense of control over ourselves, as well as the negative emotions that surround it, such as sadness and fear. For that reason, anger also helps us regulate feelings of inadequateness.
Feelings related to anger
Frustration, irritation, resentment, annoyance and rage, for instance, are all forms of anger. When we are exposed to a great threat to our self-esteem for a long period, anger may be felt in its highest intensity and turn into hatred.
How anger is felt in the body
Like fear, an angry reaction is triggered by the amygdala. When we become angry, our brain prepares us to fight an enemy or flight the scene. As you will notice on the below list, the bodily sensations associated with anger are also the ones we tend to experience when taken by fear, another emotion connected to the fight or flight response:
Increased body temperature and blood pressure
Armouring (tense muscles, especially back and neck)
Clenching the jaw and grinding teeth
Adaptive and maladaptive anger
Adaptive anger is like any other negative feeling that is experienced in a functional manner. When we experience anger healthily, it lets us know that something is not right and, then, it fades away after a little while (on average, 20 minutes). In that sense, healthy anger is productive, because it serves a specific purpose at a particular point in time, so it is short-lived and context dependant. That type of anger also directs our focus to change, or helps us start contemplating it. When we are stuck with maladaptive anger, however, it is neither felt nor regulated in that fashion, but it tends to last longer (build-up anger) or shorter than needed to create awareness and motivate us to act, or it is used as a sole means for regaining a sense of power and safety. Our failure to process and deal with the problems highlighted by our anger – when it arises – might result in behavioural, physical and mental health problems, such as relationship difficulties, migraine headaches and depression.
What your anger says about you
The anger warning reminds you that your needs are not being met. The nature of those needs may vary, from feeling loved and valued, to emotionally balanced, in control or safe. Anger highlights vulnerability and feelings of powerlessness, like a reminder of our limitations as individuals. Therefore, we feel angry when we cannot meet our goals for happiness and wellbeing. When our core beliefs are too rigid and do not match objective reality, we feel let down and angry, not only at ourselves, but at others and even life itself. The relationship we have with our anger – be it by repressing it or becoming reactive and acting out – is also connected to a history of unresolved childhood trauma.
Before rushing to judge, deny or hide your angry feelings, check in with yourself and try asking the following questions:
What needs have I got that are not being met?
What feelings of inadequacy may my anger be masking?
Is my anger productive or maladaptive?
By understanding your anger and registering its message, you start building a healthier relationship with it and yourself, so that all that energy that it so effectively triggers can also be directed to learning, better relationships and personal growth.
We organise information about ourselves, the world and other people through core beliefs. Core beliefs are cognitive units of knowledge that allow us to make sense of reality in a way that is coherent with our perspective. They affect how we interpret and store information that is processed by our senses, as well as our feelings and behaviours in relation to it. As they are a product of culture, the environment and the quality of our experience and the relationships we have had over the years, core beliefs not only reflect our history, but also help define it. Because they are so hugely influential on the way we think, feel, relate to others and lead our lives, expanding your knowledge about them can be a productive exercise. To help you achieve just that, here are 3 facts about core beliefs that will make you reassess your own:
1- Core beliefs are often unrelated to objective reality
Because you feel strongly about something, it does not mean it reflects an accurate approach or evaluation. In fact, strong convictions are supported by rigid beliefs. Those beliefs, in turn, are deeply connected to our experience and subjective perspective. Experience is then given significance by emotions, which play a big part in convincing us of the “veracity” of something, even when there is little or no concrete proof to validate it. We are able to observe that process in practice, when we are quick to agree with or reject something or someone without further deliberation. When it comes to making a decision or formulating judgement, the quicker and more automatic your reactions, the more subjective, intuitive and emotional.
2- Core beliefs are stored in the “emotional brain”
Core beliefs are stored in the amygdala, which is part of the limbic system. The amygdala is responsible for behavioural and emotional reactions such as anger, fear and responding to stressful situations (fight or flight response), as well as encoding, storing and retrieving memories of events that define our personal experience. Those memories – loaded with emotional significance – are what shape our core beliefs about ourselves, the world and others. When we take into consideration subjective perspective, our past predicts the future. Core beliefs reflect that principle accurately, since they tend to remain rigid throughout an individual’s development, and are indifferent to the changes he or she experiences. For that reason, a single or multiple traumatic events in childhood have the potential to define one’s view of himself or herself as an incompetent and unlovable adult, for instance, and remain unchanged for many years after their occurrence.
3- Core beliefs are at the root of mental health problems
As core beliefs are formed in childhood and are of an inflexible nature, they are prone to filtering information in an extremely biased and often irrational manner. Depression and anxiety sufferers, as well as trauma victims, for instance, tend to hold a very negative view of themselves, the world and others. Individuals who believe not to be good enough and, therefore, are terrified of “looking silly” and being judged by others in social interactions are highly likely to develop anxiety problems. When that anxiety becomes unbearable, they may feel the need to isolate from social contact, a dysfunctional behaviour which is also at the heart of depression. Similarly, trauma victims whose core beliefs about emotions are centred on denial are naturally resistant to approaching their own suffering honestly and proactively. That tendency compromises their ability to manage the effects of trauma in the long term, which may result in debilitating and life changing mental health issues, such as addictions and eating disorders.
If you suspect that your core beliefs are interfering with your psychological and emotional wellbeing, it is worth taking some time to reassess them. To evaluate whether they enhance or hinder your self-esteem, as well as personal growth and development, check in with yourself every time you feel a change in your mood. Ask yourself, “What was I thinking just now?” and analyse your automatic thoughts as objectively as you can. What do they say about the views you hold about yourself, the world and others? What is the tone of the rules, attitudes and assumptions that guide your thinking and behaviour? Are they too strict or flexible? Do they reflect a compassionate or overtly critical perspective?
Learning how to build a healthy relationship with yourself is all about developing emotional awareness and respect. In order for you to feel whole, it is vital that you learn how to listen, validate and regulate your own emotions. A healthy sense of self can only be perceived through feeling, be it negative or positive, or an ambivalent combination of both. Since there is no means of learning or even becoming ourselves without it, the value of our emotional health should not be underestimated. If you are determined to live a more fulfilling and pleasant existence, here is how to improve emotional health in 2018:
Become more emotionally aware
There is no better way to become more emotionally aware than simply taking the time to notice how you feel. If you are not able to identify your own emotions with the help of your intellect, direct your attention back to the body. Bodily sensations can often tell you what your brain sometimes struggles to explain through words. How does it feel to be you in this particular moment? Scan your body from head to toe – especially the regions that are prone to registering emotional disturbance, such as the stomach, chest, neck, shoulders and forehead – and analyse what is there. Do you feel a lightness or heaviness in those parts? Is your breathing short or deep? Are those regions relaxed or tense? What can they tell you about your needs and emotional state?
Respect negative emotions
Feeling whole is not viable without emotional congruence. Contrary to popular belief, emotional neglect is not an effective way of dealing with emotions, but a dysfunctional coping strategy that only leads to unhappiness, as well as mental health and relationship problems. If you feel uncomfortable, inadequate, sad or anxious, there is, most likely, a good reason for it. Even if your feelings are dysregulated, exaggerated or do not seem to reflect reality, that in itself is information of a potential mental health issue that needs your attention. Life and self-improvement are unattainable when you ignore or try to repress negative emotions. Being attentive to what is not a good fit and stands in the way of personal contentment, growth and development is a clever attitude for those who want to empower themselves through feeling.
Learn how to self-regulate
Validating your emotions does not mean being completely at their mercy. There are times that they have to be to dealt with and not only felt. Learning how to self-soothe and control your emotions independently is true autonomy. Not dealing with your feelings consciously and proactively often leads to addictions and other mental health problems. In order to deal with negative emotions healthily, motivate yourself and be creative. There is no fixed recipe for relaxation and well-being, since as individuals; we experience emotions in our own unique ways. Discover what works for you and fits your personality through exploring new ways of finding inner peace, be it through exercise, physical activity, relaxation or breathing exercises, meditation, reading, dancing, taking a hot bath, etc.
Seek emotional support
Life is often also made of stressful and even traumatic events that may be difficult to deal with emotionally. If you feel overwhelmed and nothing seems to ease your pain or anxiety, it may be time to seek the help of a mental health professional. There is no shame in feeling vulnerable and in need of a fresh perspective. Most of us go through tough times in our lives, even when we are too proud or ashamed to admit it. If you feel the need and have the means to go see a counsellor, I highly recommend it, especially if you do not feel comfortable talking about your feelings with others or were raised by emotionally neglectful parents. Therapy can be a productive environment in where to learn new problem-solving skills and coping strategies, which become yours for life.
The festive period might not be a cheerful time to everyone, but it has the potential to incite a feeling for positive change in a lot of us. If you “have had enough” of feeling demotivated and empty inside, following the above may help you reconnect with the whole of you, including those parts that have been neglected. To honour who you are in 2018, let go of beliefs about feelings that rob us from our humanity, or the ability to feel and connect with ourselves, others and the world around us. After all, being emotionally healthy is nothing that requires super extraordinary powers, but an honest and open attitude to interacting with the inner and outer world through feelings.
Every single emotion we feel, be it negative or positive, has its purpose. Negative emotions tell us when something is not quite right with our bodies. Like positive emotions, they help us interpret information and connect us to our inner and outer worlds. While negative emotions are highly sophisticated alarms that let us know when to move, act or think so to protect ourselves, positive emotions direct our focus to what we like and is important to us. Overall, emotions not only makes us human, but also help us grow and develop, as well as become who we truly are.
Despite its obvious relevance to the maintenance of our physical and mental health, our culture promotes a mentality of repression, denial and even rejection of emotions, especially when negative. We are taught already from an early age – even without direct instruction – to do what we can to supress anger and sadness, for instance, as if they were something to be “managed” and not felt. Our parents learn from their parents how not to address emotional states so not to upset them, and with time become intolerant of their very own negative emotions. When they have children of their own, they feel easily uncomfortable or lost when exposed to their suffering, anger or other feelings of inadequateness, often choosing not to accept or even acknowledge their existence and purpose.
If you struggle to feel whole and connected, be it with your emotions, with what you do, with your own body, self or others, you might have been raised in an environment of emotional neglect. To find out if that could be the case, here are 5 signs you were raised by emotionally neglectful parents:
1- You perceive most negative emotions as purposeless
You are judgemental concerning negative feelings. You see the ones who honour them as weak, temperamental, volatile or irrational. You think that everyone, including yourself, should make their utmost to be “pleasant” and exercise total control over their emotions, as if negative feelings, especially, were wild animals that should be tamed at all costs. You equate intelligence and strength to such “qualities” and emotional awareness and wholeness to vulnerabilities.
2- You find it difficult to tolerate emotional discomfort
If frustration, stress or anxiety suddenly befalls you, you do what you can to deal with such feelings as fast as possible. According to your belief, negative emotions should be extinguished immediately. You achieve that mainly via dissociation, self-medication, denial or avoidance, or through any other quick fix or diversion that makes you feel instantly better. Your reactions to other people’s negative emotional states are as straightforward as your own. If you happen to notice what is going on around you, you find it easier to pretend unawareness or not get directly involved. When dodging them becomes impossible, you downplay the importance of others’ negative feelings with polite but shallow comments, or with the help of platitudes and a stoic attitude. In some cases, you might even feel irritated by their supposed inability to deal with them as “effectively” as you do.
3- You rationalise your emotions
Because you fail to recognise the value of emotions, you use reason alone to justify and explain behaviour. “Plausible” reasoning motivates everything you do, and never an emotion such as insecurity, unhappiness or fear. You left that job not because the work environment made you super anxious to the point you could not sleep at night, but because “it was not a good fit”. You decide to stay in that broken relationship because deep down you cannot even envision the idea of being alone, but to yourself and others it is because “you invested in it for so long”. Anything reasonable enough so that you and those around you never associate how you act on the outside, with how vulnerable you truly feel on the inside.
4- You struggle to connect emotionally with others
Naturally, the distance you keep from your own emotions also makes it difficult for you to communicate how you feel. When you are required to express them, you struggle. That is because the tendency of explaining your behaviour without ever linking it to emotions, be it in relation to your own acts or others’, creates and aura of detachment in which emotional connection becomes virtually impossible. Relationships suffer in such scenarios, regardless of their nature. Loving relationships, particularly, are hard to be kept healthy without emotional closeness and intimacy. In the long term, emptiness and loneliness tend to take their toll, pushing decisions and actions into a new direction. The result of such reassessment is often high resentment and thoughts of separation.
5- You do not feel understood or validated
Even without noticing it, you are betrayed by your own beliefs concerning emotions. The need for being seen, heard, loved and understood will not go away just because you made an effort to invalidate your emotions and supress their expression. We also exchange information about ourselves through feelings, and not only through language. How can anyone recognise and even address your needs when you yourself is reluctant to acknowledge and accept them? Neglecting your emotions, especially when negative, does not favour you or your relationships, but it only turns you into an unavailable automaton.
Even if you have identified with some or all of the above, you can still change the relationship you keep with yourself, and, consequently, the ones you nurture with others. Respecting and honouring your emotions by allowing yourself to feel will give you a renewed sense of self, one that is more balanced and in harmony with your own body. Everyone can learn invaluable lessons from emotions, as well as benefit from their wisdom. To reconnect emotionally, start monitoring how you feel with honesty and an open mind. Do not give into the temptation to rationalise or deal with them as quickly as possible, but stay with them for a while. Then notice what happens, if they linger or fade away by themselves. What are they trying to tell you? Have you taken the time to consider the real implications of ignoring them? What can you learn from them?
Self-esteem is a language. The language of self-esteem is kind, tolerant and compassionate. When you use the language of self-esteem with yourself and not just with other people, you treat yourself with enough love and respect to nurture a healthy self-esteem from the inside out. The first step towards changing the tone of your inner dialogue – from self-critical to loving and respectful – is to monitor it actively. Start catching yourself while ruminating or when stuck in a fault-finding cycle. Then, instead of reacting passively to the attack of your own negative thoughts, use the language of self-esteem to challenge self-denigrating statements. Below you will find 5 healthy rules to treat yourself with love and respect that will help you introduce self-acceptance into your life:
1- No more labels
When someone makes a mistake, do you call her or him “idiot”? If a friend asks how he or she looks, do you answer with “old”, “fat” or “ugly”? Of course not. Labelling – or using words of negative connotations to describe yourself in a global and, very often, inaccurate manner – hurts. Do not full yourself: words are powerful. The habit of calling yourself names is not doing you any favours. Labels neither help nor comfort you, but on the contrary, they put you down and humiliate you.
2- No more “shoulds”
In CBT, “should” is frequently referred to as a tyrant. That is because there is little or no room for negotiation after a should statement. Just imagine: your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere when you realise you have forgotten your mobile phone at home. You are going to be late for work, which makes you deeply annoyed. You tell yourself, “I should have checked if I had my phone on me before leaving the house”. You feel even more frustrated and start questioning your ability “to do anything right”. Your anger builds up even further until it turns into merciless self-hate. Should statements are irritating reminders of one’s faults and shortcomings. They have no productive purpose, except for adding more pain to your existing misery.
3- Praise yourself
You have managed to get through a day’s work on a boring Wednesday. Well done! You were able to keep focused on eating well and consumed a low amount of carbs for two consecutive days. Good work! Why wait for recognition from others, as a desperate approval junkie, when you can give yourself the gift that keeps on giving, namely, that of self-esteem? You have all the right to express gratitude and admiration for yourself and your own achievements, be they big or small. Practicing self-love on a regular basis does not make you a narcissist. Self-love in good measure – acknowledging not only when you fail, but also when you succeed – makes for the basis of our emotional and psychological wellbeing.
4- Recognise your efforts
If you can only praise yourself when you achieve positive results, your self-esteem is conditional. What happens when you do not fulfil such condition of worth? You worry excessively and self-criticise. As a result, you may end up feeling an unpleasant mixture of sadness, frustration and anxiety. Conditional self-love may make sense in theory, but in practice is counterproductive. Those who acknowledge the value of trial and error are less likely to give up on what they want for themselves. Seeing your mistakes as essential elements of a learning journey reinforces engagement and a healthy sense of connection with your life goals.
5- Comfort yourself
You have all the right to feel sorry for yourself every now and then. Addressing your own negative feelings with love and compassion is essential for good emotional self-care. When feeling disappointed by a negative outcome, allow yourself to grieve and process your pain. Save some words of consolation for telling yourself that it is also OK to feel bad when things do not turn out as expected. Validating your feelings enables you to honour your whole self, no matter the circumstances.
Treating yourself as you would a friend can do wonders for your self-esteem. If you believe in the benefits of treating others with kindness through communicating in the language of self-esteem, you can take full advantage of such wonderful piece of wisdom by applying it also in your treatment of yourself. Nurturing a healthy relationship with yourself will give you the strength and confidence you need to lead an enjoyable and fulfilling live.