Although I endorse and encourage the new tendencies of Positive Psychology in our modern societies, I would like to put my finger on a great misconception about human emotions, in particular the one called “negativity”.
Of course, to be fair, this misconception didn’t start because of Positive Psychology. It has in fact been taking place in human societies for many, many decades – and in some cases, for centuries.
Before we dive into this misconception, let’s mention some of the so-called “negative” emotions. The four basic ones are Fear, Anger, Disgust, Sadness. These, according to Emotional Intelligence Scientist Dr. Paul Ekman, are universal emotions. That means that all human beings experience them, independently of their origin, language, culture, age, gender, education or socio-economic status. The byproducts of these four emotions are: stress, disappointment, sorrow, discontent, frustration, envy, pessimism, bitterness, etc…
Another important negative emotion, rarely discussed, is jealousy. Though it has been proven crucial for human evolution, jealousy is underestimated and highly criticised.
Lots of discussion has taken place about the importance of letting our emotions be felt or understood or experienced. Nonetheless, many people seem hesitant and uncertain when they are faced with “feeling” their true emotions. The general stance of a vast majority of people is to “not show any emotion”.
Phrases like “men don’t cry”, “don’t be such a baby”, “you are not beautiful, when you cry”, “aren’t you ashamed of being scared?”, “jealousy isn’t flattering” bombard people’s minds and let them believe that experiencing emotions somehow downsizes their self-value.
Even the fact that we use the phrase “being emotional” to accuse someone of expressing an emotional load, rather than recognizing the human aptitude to identify and feel emotions, signals the degree to which we suppress our emotional expression, viewing it as a negative rather than a positive.
This suppression is the main cause of many psychological disorders, such as phobias, excessive anger, stress disorder, depression, panic attacks and so on.
The truth is, negative emotions SHOULD be expressed. The following five crucial secrets reveal why allowing “negative emotions” to be a part of our daily expressions is important:
#1. “Negative” emotions exist for one very important reason: to notify us that something in our lives doesn’t promote our quality of life and needs changing. E.g. I get angry, when someone steps into my personal boundaries. My anger signals this fact and dictates I act to protect my boundaries immediately. By doing this, I protect a space that is important to me and am able to maintain a sense of well-being which is important to my emotional health.
#2. “Negative” emotions aren’t called “negative” because they are bad for us. They are called “negative” in order to show us that something in our lives necessitates improvement. They actually function like the indications of a sonar. And their presence in our lives is vital for ensuring a better quality of life.
#3. “Negative” emotions come in different forms (anger, fear, disgust, sadness, etc.), because each distinct category of negative emotion is destined to signal a specific type of situation that we need to tackle. E.g. fear comes out of a situation that makes us feel uncomfortable or threatens our life. Disgust comes from a situation that puts us into danger (e.g. an out-of-date food). Sadness is for dealing with a loss (from losing one’s job to losing a member of a family) and so on.
#4. There are very effective ways to listen to what our “negative” emotions have to say to us and conform to their dictations, without becoming antisocial or insulting towards others. Thankfully, there are specific techniques to follow in order to manage these emotions and their outcome. Any experienced emotional intelligence specialist is able to train a person to do this.
#5. The moment you productively deal with a “negative” emotion, its intense presence on your body and physiology subsides. On the other hand, if you try to ignore it – because it is not socially well accepted – you will have the false impression that you have stopped its effect on your physiology. Unfortunately, suppressing it doesn’t make its signals on your body disappear. They are merely covered or suppressed. But, if you keep suppressing your negative emotions over a long period of time, they will start messing with your physiology and can cause psychosomatic disorders. Over a long period of time this can cause real, organic diseases (e.g. an ulcer in the case of excessive stress).
There are many social and historical reasons that led to the misbelief that “negative” emotions are bad for humans and they shouldn’t be overtly expressed. Thankfully, modern psychology sheds scientific light on this idea and helps us understand the vital role of our emotions – the entire palette of them. Feeling and understanding the full length of our emotions is part of a healthy emotional intelligence. It not only entitles every human being to empowering behaviour, but also allows us to live a healthier, more satisfying life.