Shards of Consciousness

How To Get Rid of Excessive Negative Emotions

There's nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so - Shakespeare

In The Laws of Belief I discussed how beliefs, and their effects in creating our world, have laws analogous to Newton's Laws of Motion. In the comments Christine Kane said

Okay, now you have to do one about those beliefs that are all standing in a big lobby - like at intermission - and they’re all kind of mumbling together so you can’t really pick out one to change. They all kind of band together in a din of anxiety or fear or whatever the belief may be. What then?

So, this post is for Christine. I didn't think when I blithely told her I would have something next week for her that a book would be more appropriate, but here is a schematic outline for her, for you, and for me.

Emotions serve an evaluative function in our lives. Put baldly, emotions are a statement about how we feel about something. This is good. That is bad.

The sort of situation Christine describes appears complicated, but dealing with it is more time consuming (it can take years. I know.) than complex. There are several things you have to realize first.

  1. You sustain your own emotional state, not anything outside you.
  2. Emotion is the result of beliefs, especially evaluative beliefs.
  3. Emotions result from identifying with beliefs.
  4. The beliefs generating the emotion are things you are telling yourself.
  5. If you don't want to change, you won't.

Freud and a lot of other therapists who have been influenced by him make a big deal about finding the source of the negative programming that we have. They've convinced people that the root of your problems lie in events that happened sometime in the past that you've buried and have to unbury before you can change. That's a crock. We don't have to delve into a dog's personal history to be able to change its behavior. We don't have to know who wrote a computer program to change it. History is interesting. History can be important. History is not necessary. The current behavior is important. The beliefs that cause your emotions aren't buried in some darkly unconscious place that is inaccessible without spending years on a couch. They are things you tell yourself every day.

This isn't to say that the assistance of a therapist, teacher, or trainer isn't helpful, and at times necessary. Personal growth has relied on such for thousands of years. It can be difficult to be on the inside of a set a beliefs and see how they effect you. On the same post I noted earlier, Dave, from The Disquiet in Men, noted that our beliefs are like

the water the fish sees thru. That is why it can be tough to do meaningful, lasting change alone

In addition, just being around someone who displays the characteristics you want to encourage in yourself teaches you more positive ways to act and react. It is hard to over-emphasize the importance of role models and teachers in learning.

Working on your own is tough, but not impossible.So how do you do it? There are several techniques you can use. We are all individuals, and may find one that works better than others for us. Here is one. You can do this mentally, but you'll find it more effective if you write as you go along.

Re-creation

1. Most emotions are situational. You may suffer from stage-fright. You may get angry when you come home and find that your child didn't clean up his room like he said he would before he left that morning. You may get angry when you're 15 minutes late for work and stuck in a traffic jam. You may be hurt when your spouse didn't get you roses for your birthday. You need to focus on one situation at a time. Don't try to work with emotions in general. Work with the emotions aroused in a particular situation.

2. Imaginatively put yourself in the situation that arouses the emotion you're trying to change. Open the doors and invite the people into the auditorium of your mind. You want to feel the emotion, but be distant enough from it to look at it objectively. Emotions, especially negative emotions, are largely reactive. When you're in the actual situation where the negative emotion comes into play, it can be almost impossible to not be overwhelmed by the emotion. So from a safe place, use your imagination to put yourself in the situation where the emotion is aroused.

3. Feel the emotion. Feel the blood pulsing in your temples. Feel the tension build up in your muscles. Feel the jerkiness of your breath. Feel your heart speed up. Feel the tears gathering in your eyes. You've recreated the circumstance, now recreate the emotion.

4. As you build up the circumstance and the emotion, look at your thoughts. Really look at them. If the problem is stage fright, you may find yourself thinking something on the lines of "What if I suck? What if they don't like me? I've never been in front of so many people before!" Don't stop there. Keep watching. "If I suck I'll never get another job.The manager may not pay me. I saw a concert once where the crowd rioted. People could get hurt if something goes wrong. I could get hurt!" These may not be your exact thoughts, and they may look funny or ridiculous seeing them in black and white, but I would put money on you finding similar thoughts in the back of your mind. These are the roots of the negative emotion you feel. Remember, write these down.

As another example, try the traffic situation. "Damn! Traffic's backed up again. What happened now? Somebody probably doesn't know how to drive and rear-ended someone else. I'm late. Traffic should be moving faster than this. People shouldn't all come in at the same time. My boss is going to kill me. He won't understand. This is the third time this month I've been late. He'll probably fire me. Then how will I make the mortgage payment? Joe just started school. If I don't have a job I'll never be able to come up with his tuition money, he'll have to drop out of school, and won't be able to get a decent job." Again, it looks ridiculous in black and white. You just went from being stuck in a traffic jam to losing your house and your son having his life ruined, but if you exam all the thoughts going through your head, you'll find something similar.

5. Study the things you've been telling yourself in the situation. I'll wager that you'll find thoughts related to your expectations - the woulda, shoulda, couldas that relate to your personal attachements, and thoughts related to what you see as bad things happening in the future.

Ellis and Harper, in A Guide To Rational Living, list 10 irrational thoughts that people tend to have that sustain negative emotions. These are

  • I have to be loved and admired by almost everyone for almost everything I do. If they don't, I'm worthless.
  • I should be competent, adequate, and achieving in everything I do. If I'm not, I'm worthless.
  • I am inherently evil or bad and should be blamed and punished for their sins. I'm worthless and not responsible for what I do.
  • It is horrible when things don't go the way I don't them to go.
  • Other people make me unhappy and I can't control my feelings or get rid of negative feelings. I'm not responsible for how I feel.
  • If something is or may be dangerous or fearsome, I should be preoccupied with it and upset about it.
  • It is easier to avoid difficulty and self-responsibility than to assume some form of self-discipline that can lead to rewards.
  • The past is all-important and should affect me for the rest of my life.
  • People should be different from the way they are and catastrophe will happen if we don't do something about it.
  • I can be happiest by doing nothing and passively enjoying myself.

As you look at this list, and compare it to the thoughts you found yourself telling yourself when you were experiencing the negative emotion, I would bet you were thinking one or more thoughts related to these 10.

6. This is the hard part. You need to replace the negative beliefs with positive, or at least neutral, beliefs. This can literally take years, or it may happen in one night. It depends on how deeply attached you are to the belief. Work with one belief at a time. Talk to it. See it as one of the people in the lobby that has stepped forward to come into the auditorium. "Hey you! Mr. Their shouldn't be so many people on the road. Are you going to change how many people are on the road? Are you making me feel better? I didn't think so. Go away. We're full! Miss I'm going to get fired! First off, you don't know that. I called in. My boss said he understood. Even if I do, I'm good at my job. I can get another one. Mr. I'm stupid for not leaving earlier. I've been leaving at this time for 10 years. Maybe traffic is changing and I should leave earlier. That doesn't make me stupid. Mrs. I'm wasting time! No I'm not. I've reviewed the presentation I have to make tomorrow. I heard some interesting conversation on the radio. And that sky is the deepest blue I've seen in years. I'm going to look up more often."

Over time, the negative thoughts will go away, taking with them the excessive negative emotion. You didn't accept them. They won't stay. The choice is yours.

Extreme Circumstances

What I talked about above applies to us normally neurotic people. There are extreme circumstances where you'll want to take other action. I had a job once. Actually I've had a lot of jobs, but when I had this particular job I started experiencing anxiety attacks. I loved my work, possibly too much. I became too attached to the people with whom I worked. In addition, the office environment (a different group of people) was emotionally toxic. I felt I needed to keep the job, so I tolerated the conditions. Big mistake. The anxiety attacks were the result. I decided retreat was the better part of valor and quit the job. I've never had another anxiety attack.

Sometimes leaving a destructive situation is the best thing you can do. There is no reason to subject yourself to abuse for the sake of a job, a husband, a wife. You are not them. Your worth doesn't depend on them.

A second situation applies to the use of drugs for something like severe depression. We have a mind and a body. Emotions result from the interaction of the two. Drugs can help relieve a severe emotional problem so you can work on the actual belief patterns causing it. Drugs won't cure anything, but they can give you enough distance to change your thinking.

Meditation

As always, I cannot emphasize enough the benefits of meditation. We have a mind. We have a body. In addition, we are. Meditation gives us the time to just be, to detach from our mind, body,and emotions. In the process it helps provide structural changes in our beliefs, often without our being aware of them, that leads to long term emotional improvement. Sometimes people notice actual worsening of their emotional tone when they begin to meditate. I'm the last person to encourage you to do something self-destructive, but consider that cleaning a pool involves stirring up the muck on the bottom. This could be what is happening to such people.

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17 Responses to How To Get Rid of Excessive Negative Emotions

  • Hi there Rick. It has been a while since I've commented here, but I have visited often just to read.

    I get the sense that this post came from deep within you, and some deep and disturbing - or at least unsettling - events in your past. I appreciate your openness and honesty in dealing with the issues you address.

    I, too, am coming out of a period of extreme emotional hurt. The stress of dealing with the staff politics and student behaviours in the school where I last taught took an extreme toll. Over two years have elapsed since and there are still deep hurts. I try each day to let the sunshine into my heart and to allow that to deal with the gloom that tries to reside there.

    I, too, have had medication for depression. It helped get through the worst times and to stabilise my life somewhat, but I now strongly reject this type of solution (for me). The side effects are too drastic to contemplate ever going down that track again.

    I don't use meditation as you would define it. Instead, because I am a Christian, I use prayer. I think they are closer in practice than most people would accept, with similar positive results. I also take great encouragement and hope from regular reading and study of the Bible, especially favourite passages. Even more so, I derive great energy from developing positive relationships with other people.

    Thanks for listening to my rambling thoughts.

  • Hey Trevor,

    You're welcome to ramble anytime.

    That job was ten years ago. I do remember things for a long time, and hopefully learn from them.

    I've never personally taken prescription medication for depression, though I have used St. John's Wort, and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it. I have had people close to me on prescription meds, for long periods and short, so I have some idea of the side effects that can happen. They can have their place. My problem with the psychiatric profession is that all to off its practitioners consider medication the only or primary place. For most people, that just isn't true.

    I'm not sure how you define prayer. The way I've heard some people use the term, in one aspect they mean something akin to, if not the same as meditation. If you ever get a chance you may want to take a look at Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill, and The Cloud of Unknowing, which is available online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/anonymous2/cloud.html . These both talk about mysticism and meditation from a Christian perspective.

  • Rick - super article. I really like the steps you laid out. The re-creation is a most powerful action to take. I'm glad you emphasized this is not just about positive thinking or thinking happy thoughts.

    This kind of powerful visualizing , when done as a practice, actually changes our "wiring". Photos of the brain showing strong emotions actually change. This kind of research has validated what the monks have known for thousands of years: meditation - the daily practice of calming the mind and working with your thoughts does make a differnce in the easing of suffering.

    I would only add that it is really helpful to notice what is happening in your body as you do this. Its not just a "mental" activity. As you point out the body is important. It is the gateway to mindfulness. So pay attention to what you feel and where as you do this work - it speeds up and deepens the process.

    Good stuff!

    #81 | Comment by Dave on November 15, 2006 6:02pm
  • Thanks Dave. Effective tools do tend to hang on, and get re-discovered from many directions. A lot of what I've learned, I've learned through yoga - hatha as well as raja. When working in this way, it's hard not to notice the interplay of mind, body, and emotion.

  • hello there. I found ur website on google and found it rather interesting. And it relates to me as well. Theres something that goes on in my head every day that i just cant figure out wht it happens. Ive been told that i suppress my feelings and emotions, and sometimes, i get thoughts that scare me that i cant get out of my head and it feels like someone else is torturing me. I take Zoloft for anxiety and its kind of working. I still feel like crap everyday, and Im still very cautious and insecure. My head hurts everyday and it kinda feels like i want to kill myself. I think it's the negative thoughts, but everytime i try to think positively i think that its wrong and i quickly feel like crap again. Its like a negative thought on top of another. I cant even THINK the way i want bc im so worried it is going to be considered "wrong" as if im a 13 year old worried if her new haircut is going to be approved by the popular kids. Its soo annoying. I try to meditate but i just cant get myself relax. What should I do?

  • Hi Hayle. Well come and thanks for visiting.

    I am not a doctor or therapist. I have some training in psychology, but I'm just a person talking about some of the things I've learned that have helped me and that I have seen help others.

    If you're on medication now, don't stop it. You should talk to the prescriber and let them know how you still feel. They need to know how you are feeling while on the medication to give you the best possible treatment plan.

    If you're not already seeing a therapist as well as taking your medication, you should be. If you haven't been able to development an honest relationship with your therapist, their assistance won't be as effective as it could be, so you need to work on that relationship or find another therapist.

    If you're not able to meditate, the first thing you need to do is learn to relax. You can do it. Learn some form of progressive relaxation such as what I talk about here. Relaxation and meditation are important for being able to separate ourselves from our thoughts and emotions so we can understand them and work with them.

    I would like to recommend a book to you, too. It is Simple Abundance - A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sara Ban Breathnach. I know several people who have found it to be very useful.

    Don't ignore your thoughts. Don't ignore your emotions. But don't identify with them. They are not you. You have them. You are not them. They are important signposts showing how you think and how you believe. With time, you can change your beliefs. It may not happen overnight. It may not happen without pain. But it can and will happen.

  • Thank you so much for this website....after using your six steps i feel so light and refreshed....its like a whole new beginning....probably a sign that what it thought was bugging me wasn't really that tightly attatched...i've been dealing with it for some time now so thank you again....u rock!

  • Hello friend,

    Thank you for coming, and using what I've talked about here.

    I'm glad the technique has helped. I've always found it useful. If there is one thing I have learned, it's that you are in control of your life and emotions, and negative emotions hurt yourself more than whoever they're directed at. Come again, a keep speaking up. :-)

  • You made a good point at the start with your basically saying emotions are part of you. But let me tell you something buddy, that's where it stopped. If I came and tortured you right now then no amount of positive thinking NLP scam garbage would stop you feeling horrendous while I was torturing you. The effect would continue once I'd stopped too. You might control your emotions in your nice little life where the worst thing that happened is an anxiety attack but let me tell you boy, if I came and tortured you today you'd never be the same again.

    Why can't I find any real information on this subject instead of positive mental attitude bullshit. Why are all the most successful people I know sadistic narcissistic assholes with as much positive mental attitude as a KKK lynch mob? None of this matches what I've seen in the real world. No, you aren't completely in control of your emotions. They are a chemical electrical reaction controlled by interactions with other objects in the universe more so than by positive mental thinking bullshit. If you really believe what you say, let me torture you and see how positive you are then. I'd love to have your permission. Then you'd know how wrong you are.

    This is pollycock and nothing more than telling people what they want to hear. If I bugger your anus with a pool cue then you will identify with the belief that you have been violated in a way society looks down upon by a stronger man and if you tell people they will look at you as a gay. If I promise not to kill you but use electrodes to torture you for hours I guarantee you won't feel positive about anything (until I stop, then you will feel extreme relief) and so sure, your emotion identifies with the belief you are suffering and will continue to suffer, but your positive thinking pollycock won't alter it.

    I wish someone would be honest about these things. There's so much nonsense out there.

  • ... and this all overlooks how useful negative emotions are. Such as when extreme violence breaks out then you feel a surge of fear, adrenaline pounds around your body and anger rises powering you into overdrive.

    So tell me how positive you'd feel after I tortured you, other than the relief I have stopped, you might even feel grateful! But you'd be a broken man on some levels, and negative emotions would be in your mind placed there by me.

  • Black Hat,

    Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to make such extensive comments. I don't agree with what you say, but many people, perhaps most, do. That's one of the things I'm trying to change with this site. I'm not trying to force any views on anyone. Each person will make their choice about whether what they read is useful or not, and what is productive to apply in their lives and what to ignor.

    Several things:

    1. I've never read any NLP literature. If what you read here bears any resemblence to it, it is because NLP has built on prior work and thought, and because, hmmm, maybe the techniques are realistic and not poppycock.

    2. You miss the point completely. Your emotions are not a part of you. They are something you experience. Yes, one of the channels of their creation is the neurochemical reactions throughout your brain and body. We have both a mind and a body, which may be two aspects of one tool. We are neither. You obviously believe you are a body, a product of purely material forces. In that case, all debate about free will and personal responsibility is a content free discussion. You are only a victim. You, for that matter, don't even exist. You are as much an illusion as free will or personal responsibility. The nonsense isn't that we are more than a random assemblage of atoms, but that we are only a random assemblage of atoms. It is that belief, along with the belief that one person has the right to physically enforce their will on another person, that has caused the majority of the pain, war, violence, and behavior destructive to the self and others in the world's history.

    3. Would I be able to avoid an immediate emotional reaction to the things that happen to me? No. That emotional reaction is as much, if not more, a habit of thought as anything else, though. One of the reasons you find the same poppycock all over is because it works. Your thoughts affect your body as well as your body affecting your thoughts. Neither one of them is you.

    4. You seem to confuse material success with happiness and even common decency. The two are more often far apart than together. Once a basic level of physical comfort is reached, any more material success doesn't nothing for happiness or contentment, and case could be made for it encouraging the exact opposite.

    5. If you tortured me I would have the belief that you tortured me. If I invited you to torture me, I would have the belief that I invited you to torture me. Would I feel pain. Definitely! Would I hate you? Probably. But then, if you fell and broke your arm would you hate the floor you landed on? It would be my choice to hate you, forgive you, or treat you as if you're the floor. I, you, and everyone else is responsible for what emotions we feel and sustain.

    6. Emotions are useful. They serve an evaluative function in our lives. In simplistic terms, they are us telling ourselves this is good or this is bad. If the only way to get you to provide food for yourself is the fear of starving, the fear is useful. More useful is to provide food for yourself so you can do something more fulfilling. Action driven only by emotion isn't useful. Emotions are most effective when guided by thought.

    This is honesty. Abdicating responsibility for yourself and your life is not.

  • "I can be happiest by doing nothing and passively enjoying myself."

    I looked at the list very carefully and it just happens that this one most closely matches my thought process. Except for one thing, I would rephrase it this way:

    "I can be happiest by doing something and at the same time passively enjoying myself"

    I just can't for the likes of me deduct how that is negative thought. Is it negative in comparison because statistically humans passively enjoy themselves by interacting with other human beings?

  • Hi TheDesigner.

    Albert and Ellis originally worded this

    10. The idea that maximum human happiness can be achieved by inertia and inaction, or by passively and uncommittedly "enjoying oneself."

    I may have changed the meaning of this in my paraphrase, but the intent is that happiness will not come from leading a passive life. Happiness, and contentment, are side effects of engaging in fulfilling activities. To expect enjoyment, happiness, or contentment to result from being passive in one's life is a destructive belief.

    In changing 'nothing' to 'something', you change the belief to one that is more positive and constructive.

  • hi i'm christine. had a major emotional reaction at my doctors surgery the other day. just thought i'd go online and see what was on offer for negative emotions. so you can imagine my surprise and yes delight whan i opened this................................so thanks a million from this christine. i'll read it slowly and at leasure and as though it was just for me.

  • Read at your leisure, christine, and consider it for all the christines of the world (even when our name isn't christine :) ). The technique does help.

    While you're reading, be sure to visit the first Christine's site. You'll find a lot more that is interesting and helpful.

  • Excellent article. This is great advice on how to bring up the emotions that are holding us back.. but I have one thing I would like to add if I may. It does not have to take years or even a lot of time to release them. There are many releasing techniques and meditation is one of them. This is the art buddist monks practice - they release these thoughts and beliefs in order to seperate themselves from the egoic mind.

    An incredibly reliable and easy way of releasing these thoughts is with EFT. Its an emotional version of acupuncture and is founded on the belief of the existence of meridian or energy lines in the body. By stimulating or tapping these energy lines you can release the emotions that have built up there after you have managed to bring them up by the process you descibed.

    It is important to note that these emotions are stored in your body, not your mind, hence you may feel nervousness in your stomach when you are on that stage or you may feel stress and get a headache when you frustrated sitting in that traffic jam.

    I have been experimenting with EFT for over a year now and some things that have truely amazed me have happened. If youre interested you can find out about it at emofree.com ..but for me the number one resource on this subject has been an ebook called 'tap yourself free' by a guy called Magnus. He literally spent 6 months tapping every single feeling he could find and the results have been life changing. Everything we do is a learned response from the past, just like you said. So imagine what you could do if you could remove ALL you limiting beliefs... procrastination, poor concentration, fear of heights, anxiety when public speaking... these are the things I have worked on so far but I have a long way to go.

    I have a lot of exploring to do on you site, it looks great.

    #5629 | Comment by Kilion on April 1, 2009 2:43pm
  • I agree with the last commenter, using prayer can be of great help (I am not a Christian). As I mentioned in one of my articles at http://hubpages.com/hub/off-negative-emotions
    even if you are an unbeliever, there must be things that you believe in. A lot of research state that religious people live richer and fuller lives. Then of course, there are other tips you can try out as well.

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