Have you ever had a feeling that you just didn’t want to deal with? All of us have feelings that we want to ignore, and most likely those feelings have something in common – they are what we consider “negative” or “bad” feelings. When we are happy, it’s easy to share our happiness, but when we are angry, upset, annoyed or disappointed, we instinctively feel the need to shove that emotion to the background and move on. However, it’s important that we acknowledge and address those emotions rather than trying to ignore them.

Negative emotions are trying to tell us something. They may feel inconvenient, but negative feelings are working as a sort of warning system, letting us know that there is something we need to address. Think of these emotions like the “check engine” light on a car. It comes on when something needs attention. Anger, sadness, and fear let us know that there is something we need to acknowledge and address. We can choose to ignore these emotions, but much like the “check engine” light, they won’t go away.

The reason negative emotions don’t simply disappear is because something has happened or is happening to cause that emotion, and until we acknowledge what that is, the feeling will remain. The good news is that dealing with negative emotions doesn’t have to be a complex process. It can be as simple as asking three questions:

What Am I Feeling?

Feelings can, on occasion, be hard to pinpoint. It is important to stop and figure out exactly what emotion you are feeling and then name it. For example, you notice that you are feeling angry, and you say to yourself, “I’m feeling angry.”

This sounds easy enough, but so often we just feel something bad – we are easily irritable, we feel numb, or we can’t find the motivation to do ordinary things. Putting in the effort to really think about what feeling is lying under the surface is an important step to working through it.

What is Causing Me to Feel This Way?

While sometimes it can seem like feelings bubble up for no reason, they don’t. Using the previous example: You’ve identified that you are feeling angry, and when you ask yourself why, you realize it’s because you worked hard on a presentation for a staff meeting and several co-workers brushed off your presentation as “not important”.

It’s easy to have an experience like this and just feel grumpy for the rest of the day. But if you first name it (“I feel angry”) and identify why (“I worked hard on that presentation and I didn’t like the way it was received”), well, now you have something to work with. The alternative is to just feel grumpy all day without really understanding why.

What Can I Do to Work Through This Feeling?

The best way to tackle negative feelings is to work through the issue at hand. You know that you're angry because co-workers brushed off your work. First, allow yourself to feel angry. Your anger is valid. In fact, all feelings are valid. You can be gentle with yourself by acknowledging that your reaction makes sense given the situation. You might say to yourself, “Of course you feel angry; anyone would feel angry if they were treated that way at work.” Then, begin to work through that anger. In this example, it might help to remind yourself that you can’t control other people’s actions and remind yourself that you did a great job on the presentation, even if others didn’t appreciate it. This might sound like, “It’s okay to feel angry about this. And I did the best I could; I can’t control their reaction.” Doing this probably won’t make the anger immediately disappear, but it will allow you to begin moving through the feeling.

So, let’s recap. Negative feelings are important because they let you know that there is something you need to work through. Acknowledging, validating and addressing these feelings and their cause allows you to move forward without carrying the emotion with you.

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