Let me share a little theory I have about the power that we give emotions, particularly negative emotions, and why I think that might be.
This is inspired by the work of Brené Brown and she talks about leaning into the discomfort of a situation, and that inspired me into working with this theory of how we deal differently with what we determine to be positive emotions and negative emotions.
Types of Emotions
For the purposes of this demonstration, positive emotions are things like happiness or excitement or joy; and negative emotions would be shame or sadness or fear.
The Positive Emotion Curve
If we have a situation that triggers a positive emotion then this how the emotion happens. Let’s say it’s happiness.
So we have a starting point, so something triggers that happiness. We start to get happy, and that feeling grows. It doesn’t start off instantaneous. It actually grows. We get signals to our body that tells us to start acting as if we are happy and that feeling grows and grows and grows.
But it doesn’t grow exponentially, at some point it stops because otherwise we would explode with happiness.
So at some point this curve starts to even out and then it will dissipate because we don’t stay happy all the time.
We don’t get one trigger and stay in that emotion all the time.
That’s generally the bell curve of a positive emotion.
What happens with Negative Emotions?
Where I think we start to run into trouble with negative emotions because we are taught from a very early age, from people who have the best of intentions, to avoid negative emotions.
If you think about when we were children, when we fell down and hurt ourselves, or if something happened to make us sad or afraid, then our well-meaning parents and caregivers told us to do something else, to distract ourselves, to cheer up because they don’t want to see us in pain. I don’t want to see my children in pain.
But what happens over time is that we never get to experience negative emotions so we become a bit afraid of them.
The Negative Emotion Avoidance
And this is where my theory is. Something happens that is going to trigger a negative emotion, we have the trigger, the process begins, and we notice that we have that negative emotion, but because we have all the conditioning from childhood that says avoid avoid avoid we distract ourselves and we do something else.
So we never have the experience of the fact that negative emotions also follow this curve.
Yes, they build and yes, it’s uncomfortable but they also will dissipate.
So we are so afraid of them that we run away, we never actually end up experiencing them.
Lean Into Negative Emotions, experience the Curve
And when you do experience the negative emotion curve, it’s incredibly empowering to know that you can survive.
You can survive leaning into the discomfort of negative emotions.
So try it, the next time that you are feeling sad, stick with it, lean into the discomfort of it and have the experience that you will survive and the next time that you experience negative emotions it won’t be so bad.
Let me know how you get on….