How could we better deal with our negative emotions and cognitions?
When we face challenges or difficulties, it is common for us to experience negative emotions, such as sadness, anxiety or anger. It is natural that we tend to try hard to get rid of these negative emotions. With these negative emotions, we often also have accompanied negative cognitions. For example, a staff who was criticized by his boss might feel shameful and think that he was a failure. If we tried to tell our friends about our negative emotions or negative cognitions, they might frequently suggest us to change our thinking into the positive side so that we would feel more positively. However, it is always easier said than done. We usually found that no matter how hard we try to get rid of these negative emotions or cognitions, it is difficult for them to go away. In fact, we could learn to be more accepting to these negativities when they arise and deal with them with open-mindedness. How can we do this?
It is important for us to know that the more we try to get rid of these negativities inside us, the more hooked we are. On the contrary, when these negative emotions or cognitions arise, we try to acknowledge them and observe them with acceptance and compassion. These feelings or thinking will not exacerbate. Facing our negative emotions or cognitions with intention, curiosity and kindness can help us to gradually get out of the downward spiral. Indeed, some of these negative thinking or feelings might be valid to the situations or the current moment. For instance, if my client was diagnosed to suffer from cancer, it is valid for her to feel worried and sad. Whether our negative emotions or cognitions are valid or not, it is more adaptive for us to surf with them instead of fighting against them.
After we acknowledge our negative thinking and feelings, we can learn to observe them as they are. In this way, we create a space between our immediate reactions and our negativity. This detachment from our negative emotions and cognitions enables us not to identify with them. We can be more grounded to know that these feelings are only our feeling and thoughts are only our thoughts. They may not reflect the reality we are facing. As a result, we will be less likely to react to the situations with impulsivity and irrational behavior. For example, when a friend of us failed to reply to our text messages for two days, if we can observe our negative emotion of anger and negative cognition of being abandoned, we may create a space between texting a rude message to this friend and our anger and abandonment interpretation of the situation. We can then come up with other possible explanations of the situation and act accordingly. We may try to text another common friend to ask about how this friend is doing lately.
When we can create a space between our negativity and our impulse to react, we may then have the space to reflect on our values and our goals. In the above example, even though we feel angry and being abandoned by our friend for him or her not replying to us, we may reflect that we have the values of kindness and connections in human beings. In this case, we know it is more appropriate for us to stay in touch with this friend. We may then choose to send another text message to this friend to follow up on our previous message. It could be that this friend may be very busy two days ago and missed our message. When he or she read our second message, it is more likely that we will receive a genuine reply from him or her.
Without proper handling of our negative emotions and cognitions, it is easy for us to be trapped in a state of helplessness and feeling stuck. In this case, we may choose to act not according to our values and goals. We may end up to regret and lose valuable opportunities in our lives. If we wish to have a meaningful and fruitful life, it is of paramount importance for us to learn to deal with our negativity adaptively and wisely.