The Three Types of Negative Emotions, and the Messages they Hold
Emotions are messages that have great value. Negative emotions get a bad rap because they can feel intrusive or distracting. They can seem to come and go as they please, and generally not at the most convenient times. However, when given attention, these negative emotions have great wisdom...
Sometimes they are messages from your body, telling you that you are exhausted, or hungry or in pain. Your prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for higher levels of thinking, alters its functioning when confronted with physical or emotional stress, impeding one's ability to process emotions. These are generally the negative emotions that are experienced as a baseline irritability, or "waking on the wrong side of the bed." All the good in the world may not be able to distract you from a feeling of unease or imbalance if it's rooted in physical disharmony. If you are having this experience, grab your journal and start taking notes. First, do some investigating. Get curious on when the feeling began, and how your body was feeling at this time. Next, do a full-body scan. Are there any areas in your body that feel connected to this emotion? For example, does it seem to amplify when your stomach is churning, or your chest feels tight, or when you feel achy all over? Then, ask yourself what information your inner wisdom has for you here: could you have used more sleep? Were you nourishing yourself appropriately? Ask yourself, is there is anything you can do to better support your physical body so you can feel better moving forward? The physical-emotional connection is powerful and goes both ways. Sometimes emotions create discomfort in the body, but sometimes emotions are simply indicators that your physical body is asking for better care and attention. Investigating this with a healthcare provider may provide clarity if you find you've identified the physical trigger, but need support shifting it.
In other situations, if you are feeling physically well, emotions may simply be habit patterns. Brains house complex electrochemical networks, and the paths your thoughts most travel fortify these networks, so they are relived, again and again. Have you ever lost your cool about something and found yourself feeling regret afterwards, wondering why you overreacted? Have you found yourself unable to let something go? These are often the emotions that, upon reflection, seem disproportional to the trigger itself, or are persistent and repetitive, and they are begging for your attention. Often, these emotions stem from a thought form or belief you created earlier in your life. If humans are machines built for survival, remembering negative experiences from your youth, and protecting yourself from similar situations, is a valid survival tool. However, as you become willing to take charge of your inner experience, reacting out of an outdated survival mechanism generally no longer serves you. If you notice an emotion that feels out of proportion to the situation at hand, grab your journal and ask yourself- when was the first time in my life that I felt this way about a similar situation? Is my earlier self the one who is reacting now, trying to protect myself? Is this old reaction still valid when applied to my current life circumstance? Am I allowing this earlier version of myself to steer my current reality, even though it may no longer be appropriate?
Finally, in other times, negative emotions are important messages your internal guidance system is relaying to you as a result from the culmination of all the information received from your current environment, your thoughts, your heart, and your intuition. This is often the negative emotion that is experienced in certain situations, or when you think of certain people. Generally, there is something to explore here, possibly requiring a change in your environment, your relationships, or your behavior to have a more joyful life experience. Grab a journal and allow yourself to free-write everything that doesn't feel right about this situation, and allow your inner voice to express itself. Play it all out on paper. Sometimes an action step may intuitively come to you during this process, but be aware, if the action is along the lines of fleeing, allow yourself more time to process before acting. A strong sense to flee, while sometimes necessary, can also be an avoidance pattern when there is more to learn about yourself here. If clarity on this emotion evades you with this practice, it may also be rooted in a deeper story you are reliving from your past, that requires you to investigate earlier times you've had this emotion, as in the previous exercise.
Because humans are multifaceted, sometimes an emotion stems from all of the above. The relationship you are ruminating on may not be a healthy one, and may require altering. But also, it may remind you of a similar relationship in the past that caused you pain which is asking for healing, and, now you are more reactive because you stayed up too late last night. Sorting through your emotions takes practice and patience, but with time, it pays off. If you can learn to interpret the underlying messages, and free yourself from old stories, you can create a rich, meaningful life experience.
And wouldn't you know- persistent negative emotions impact so many aspects of our physiology: our hormones, our digestion, our cardiovascular system, our ability to heal, and much more. Whole disease processes have been attributed to stress, and while medicine struggles to empower people to heal this stress, medications were created to mitigate the symptoms. This is why working with a provider that practices holistically is so important for true healing. It is not appropriate to rely completely on medications for physical problems rooted in, or impacted by, our emotions. In order to effect true and lasting healing, it is necessary to deeply investigate all parts of ourselves engaged with our health and wellbeing, because humans are beautiful and complex and diseases most commonly cannot be cured with a pill alone.