Lesson #8: How to Trust the Logic of Your Negative Emotions

Lesson #8: How to Trust the Logic of Your Negative Emotions emotion logicTrusting your negative emotions might be scary, a little uncomfortable too. But when you can trust them to serve as important signals about your life -- you are in a much better position to identify and fix real problems. They might be small problems or big problems. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you turn your negative emotions into something positive. That you work with them in constructive ways. So today, focus on what you can do to better trust your emotions. It might just change your entire outlook on life.

How to trust your negative emotions

In the past week, what was one thing that really bothered you? How did it make you feel, specifically? If you can't think of anything right now, you can still read the rest of the exercise and then do it for real when the next thing that bothers you does. Here's the seven-step process for working with your negative emotions, trusting their logic, and turning them into mindful emotions.

Step 1: Identify the negative emotion

An emotion is a bodily sensation that's partly underpinned by your conscious thoughts. It's a physiological response to your environment. As we've covered before, emotion is thought plus meaning that's expressed physically as feeling. In order to identify your negative emotion, you have to experience it. It needs to exist before you can label it. A huge component of experiencing an emotion is expressing it. Safely and appropriately of course. Some people think that you can go for a jog, meditate, or take a nap to help process your emotions. It's very rare that those things help. Occasionally doing such things will give you the opportunity for a negative emotion to surface. But when you start the activity after the emotion has surfaced, it usually interferes with the process. That's because the emotional process is raw. It's biologically programmed to get your attention. Emotions tell you what's helpful or harmful to your survival, what's dangerous or safe, painful or pleasant, good or bad -- because that's what they evolved to do. The way they deliver that message (of say "good" or "bad") needs to be dramatic enough to get your attention. So when emoting, don't be afraid to throw a tantrum in privacy, or journal furiously, or vent to a consenting friend. And don't try to tame the emotional process -- you'll only suppress the emotion for the time being (it will bite you in the but later) and miss out on being able to identify it. forget things like anger management or techniques to release your emotion without having to actually experience them -- they're methods people invent to bypass having to experience their emotions. And as a result, they have a hard time identifying and working with them.
Turn your negative emotion into a mindful emotion by keeping the following in mind when identifying your negative emotion:

Emotions are for the moment. When you let them run their natural course, they deliver their message and pass by you with ease. It's when you try to deny or avoid or abstract them that they remain much longer and cause you problems. So while emoting, forget the future -- only think of the present and how you feel. Forget about being calm or caring or any other long-term life goal that you have. In order to move toward any long-term life goals, you have to be honest with yourself, and honest about how you feel.

Step 2: Find out why you feel that way

After you've emoted, you can look back and start to analyze what just happened. (Analyzing while you're emoting will only get in the way of emoting.) Why did that particular event really bother you? List out as many reasons as you can. Don't worry if the reasons only make sense to you, or don't even "make sense" at all. The goal is to zone in on why you felt the way you did. Look to your appraisals. Did how you appraise a situation contribute to the way you felt about it? Where did those appraisals come from? Don't worry about whether or not those appraisals are right or wrong -- just get clear on what they are.
Turn your negative emotion into a mindful emotion by keeping the following in mind when finding out why you feel that way:

When looking for the reasons why you felt a certain way, you need to be patient and accepting of yourself. This includes acceptance of your ego -- as simply your wounded inner child doing what it can to survive in a harsh world with whatever defense mechanisms it has developed. When looking for the reasons why you feel a certain way, you need to forget about what's right or wrong or logical or illogical or mature or childish -- and just be brutally honest with yourself. Because honesty is your only starting point for working with your emotions.

Step 3: Acknowledge the logic of the negative emotion

Your emotional reactions, many of which are subconscious or automatic, are simply your body’s way of communicating the importance and/or meaning of information in your environment. With respect to how that information relates to your survival and/or well-being. The reason behind any negative emotion usually has to do with some threat to your survival and/or well-being -- real or imagined. So figure out what threat to your survival the negative emotion calls your attention to. Is it an incompetent boss? An authoritarian parent? A dishonest friend? Each of these types of people has a negative impact on your survival/health and well-being, and your body knows this. It uses the negative emotion to signal this to you. And then figure out why exactly you perceive it as a threat. As we covered in Lesson #6, your emotions are inherently logical because they elaborate upon and provide traces back to your cognitive networks. These cognitive networks form the framework for how you co-construct what you need in order to survive. When you trace your emotions back to your cognitive networks, you can get really mindful about what exactly your belief systems are at a given point in time -- and how they affect your views on survival. Tracing your emotions back to your cognitive networks also allows you greater response ability for building your life as a mindful construct. Which helps you to survive and thrive.
Turn your negative emotion into a mindful emotion by keeping the following in mind when acknowledging the logic of the negative emotion:

Survival is very important to you because you are a mortal being. Your emotions were put in place to keep you alive (however, dysfunctional cultural programming can interfere with this purpose). This means your ego is also in place to keep you alive, even if it at times relies on dysfunctional defense mechanisms. So don't be afraid to appear too egoistic or self-centered or unreasonable or immature when acknowledging the story your emotions tell you about what you need in order to survive. It may not be a totally accurate story, but you have to start from somewhere to get anywhere with the negative emotion.

Step 4: Identify the problem, real or imagined

Once you've acknowledged the logic of your negative emotion -- that it's informing you about how to maintain your health and well-being -- you've identified the problem. The problem is that threat to your survival. The problem can be real -- someone trying to swindle your money. Or imagined -- that your spouse will become unfaithful because they're no longer spending any time with you. Whether it's real or imagined doesn't really matter. What matters is that the "problem" is now in your conscious awareness. What matters is that the "problem" is important for you to look at and examine -- otherwise your body wouldn't have reacted so dramatically with the negative emotional response.
Turn your negative emotion into a mindful emotion by keeping the following in mind when identifying the problem, real or imagined:

It's especially important to become aware of problems that you merely imagine. Because an imagined problem reflects a real problem. That's usually with respect to your own dysfunctional interpretation of events, or your own dysfunctional beliefs.

Step 5: Find out your role with regards to the problem

Once you find out what that problem is, you need to trace it back to its root. Or rather, you need to trace it back far enough so that you can see clearly what your role is with regards to the problem. You need to find out if you were truly and innocent bystander. If you allowed the perpetrator to impact you, either directly or indirectly. If you subconsciously co-created the problem. If you made up the problem in your head. If you ignored the problem so that it just became a bigger problem. If you created the problem due to to dysfunctional beliefs. And so on and so on.
Turn your negative emotion into a mindful emotion by keeping the following in mind when finding out your role with regards to the problem:

Noting your role with regards to the problem is completely different from blaming yourself or judging yourself as a failure. When finding your role with regards to the problem, do so with the intention of taking response ability. Keep it clean, done shame, guilt, or judge yourself. Just be honest and brave enough to acknowledge the role you may have played.

Step 6: Take response ability wherever you can

Now, what can you do to address the problem? To move on with mindful deliberation of action -- for the aim of building your life as your mindful construct? How can you take response ability for the problem? How can you respond in such a way that you take something bad, painful, or unpleasant, and turn it into something good, constructive, and joyful?
Turn your negative emotion into a mindful emotion by keeping the following in mind when taking response ability wherever you can:

The ultimate aim of getting in touch with your negative emotion is to trust its logic and take the opportunity to learn more about yourself. As well as learn how to be more successful at you long-term life goals. Response ability ultimately serves you because it transforms you from victim into co-creator of you life.

Step 7: Update your belief systems with mindfulness

Once you've responded mindfully to the situation and really worked with your negative emotion for your greater good, it's important to remember to update outdated or dysfunctional beliefs systems that gave you trouble in the first place. Dysfunctional beliefs can cause you a lot of heartache. They can trick you into unnecessary misery. Prolong pain. Stunt growth. That's what they are by nature: things that don't appear to be harmful but do cause you real physical, emotional, or psychological harm. If you find a dysfunctional belief underpinning a certain emotion -- be response able and work at long-term solutions for reprogramming it into a functional belief. You'll know the belief has changed when those emotions also go away. Working with emotions is powerful stuff.
Turn your negative emotion into a mindful emotion by keeping the following in mind when updating your belief systems with mindfulness:

There's no such thing as being perfect. You're constantly learning, growing, increasing your response ability, and refining your cognitive networks so they can be as functional as possible in assisting you in creating your life as a mindful construct. So take it easy, be patient with yourself, and never give up.

Summary

Maybe you were taught that children should be seen and not heard. Or that people without an education can't make it far in life. Or that women are supposed to stay in the kitchen. These kinds of programs are almost always hidden from your conscious awareness. They only become apparent to you when you have some motivation to look into them. Or after the fact. After you get irritated by your neighbor's noisy kids. After you find yourself getting jealous when your druggie friend who dropped out of college went on to become a successful CEO. After your girlfriend outbursts that you always expect her to cook you a meal. But just because you have a deep ocean of subconsciousness -- doesn't mean you should just give up on trying to know who you are and what makes you tick. All is not lost, because you have emotional clues. Because emotions are thoughts plus meaning, expressed as feeling -- emotions are breadcrumbs leading back to thoughts. Or cognitive networks. Or, the subconscious mind. So anytime you have an emotional reaction, remember, it's because you were thinking about some thing a certain way. If that thinking was hidden from your conscious awareness, well the emotion uncovers all that! You may not always know what's brewing below the level of your conscious awareness, but you can know how you respond emotionally to events in our life at a given point in time (as long as you are not suppressing our feelings). I invite you to complete this exercise as honestly as you can. It's idea to write it all down on paper/ in a text editor. All the best, signed, Melissa P.S. Did you get here from a link from a friend? This is Lesson 8 of a 10-part free e-class that shows you how your life is your construct. Learn more about it and sign up here.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Lexi July 10, 2010 at 2:19 pm

This article kept running through my mind while I was going through this upsetting incident tonight. Basically (as I mentioned in a few comments) I have issues with my gym. I have tried to deal with this issues but haven’t been successful (and leaving the gym isn’t an option right now). Tonight I had an incident there that really upset me. I got extremely angry and into a heated argument with someone. Staff who I thought would come to my defense lashed out at me. After getting nowhere, I left the gym completely humiliated, hurt, and angrier than before. I kept telling myself….feel the emotion! It isn’t bad…it hurts but try to stay with it! I cried for about 2 hours to my husband and talked about how I felt and why. I was still hurting and crying but after a while I remembered something you wrote in this post: “Find out your role with regards to the problem”. I realized that I was being inconsistent. I had already decided that I wanted to stay in the gym despite my disagreements with them but I was acting in an opposite fashion. I was arguing with people in an inappropriate way. I wasn’t taking full responsibility for my decision to stay at this gym.

Then I realized that I held a belief that people should always act fairly. I still value this but I also valued my gym membership (I have a lot of friends there, there’s a great yoga class, etc.). Instead I thought to myself that maybe I should “alter” this belief- that I would like life to be fair, I would like people to always treat me in a way that I perceive to be fair but sometimes I must simply accept that this will not be the case.

Anyways- sorry if this comment was too rambly…just wanted to let you know I appreciated this article and tried to apply it!

Melissa Karnaze July 13, 2010 at 8:30 am

Lexi, thanks for sharing your story! I’m so glad you were determined to feel the emotion!

Because of that you were able to see your inner conflict of wanting to stay at the gym but not being able to put up with all the flack you get for it. Now you can be more mindful about your decision and why you want to stand by it — and you’re in a better position to change that situation should you want to.

There are no easy answers when settling for less in an imperfect world. But you can do a lot to make the situation feel safe for you, as long as you are aware of your feelings, the problems, and how to address them in a way that you feel good about (even though it may not be “perfect”). Even if you can’t change other people’s behavior, you can have a plan to protect your boundaries, given the limitations of the situation (like where gym staff lie to you about the air conditioning).

Thanks for sharing how you applied this lesson!

Kelley Mitchell July 17, 2010 at 9:31 am

Melissa you are the only person I’ve ever known to say it’s ok to have emotions and that it’s ok to have negative emotions, so thank you. And thank you for giving us healthy ways to deal with our negative emotions.

I am captivated by the idea that emotions are linked to us physically and are part of our survival makeup. I will have to pay closer attention to these cues to help me with my response ability. I’ve learned so much from you!

Melissa Karnaze July 19, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Kelley, I’m so glad this has been helpful to you!

Yes, emotions are there to help us survive. It’s a simple concept but with such profound implications! And even the emotions that are out of whack and not really in sync with our survival, can still teach us important lessons about how to reprogram dysfunctional thinking and be more response able. It’s a win-win situation. :)

Sinei David November 23, 2010 at 5:43 am

Thanks again Melissa.

Melissa Karnaze November 23, 2010 at 8:04 am

My pleasure David, thanks for sharing your thoughts throughout the class!

Daga Diego November 26, 2011 at 10:25 am

Hi Melissa, I have been enjoying your writings for a while. Could you answer a quesion please? I know I can experience each emotion as positive or negative. And that positive and negative are sometimes equated with gain and loss. And gain and loss are sometimes equated to good and bad. Are all emotions subjective? Thank you Daga

Melissa Karnaze November 27, 2011 at 10:07 am

Hi Daga, yes and no. All human experience is subjective, but evidence suggests that some emotions are universally experienced across human cultures. The important thing is recognizing how you (subjectively) experience your emotions, so that you can ultimately learn from them and work with them.

Daga Diego November 27, 2011 at 5:37 pm

Thank you Melissa,

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