Have you been taught to believe the myth that some human emotions are "positive" and others "negative"? If someone asked you to name "negative" emotions, which ones come to mind? Terror? Disgust? Rage? Jealousy? Envy? Shame? Guilt?


Try the idea that every one of your emotions (involuntary neural-hormonal-muscular reactions) exists for a natural reason or purpose. If you agree, then it becomes useful to (a) name each specific emotion in important situations, and identify (b) why it exist now, and (c) what any emotion means to you and other people.

Distinguish between *feeling* an emotion and related thoughts, and *expressing* them. Some ways of expression are "negative,' in that they cause pain and damage relationships. You *can* affect how and when you express feelings, but not what you feel! "Repression" is an unhealthy attempt to deny, mute, or ignore or what your mind and body are trying to tell you.

Think of your instinctive emotional responses as internal emails sent to alert you to something important or useful. "Human Nature" gifts us with dozens of discrete "feelings," senses, and related thoughts to enrich our daily experiences and guide our choices.

Useful first steps in acting on your "inner emails" is to evolve personal awareness, and build a vocabulary to accurately name what you feel. This can be challenging, because we're able to feel several emotions at once - e.g. love and hate, excitement, guilt, and anxiety; and curiousity, hope, and fear.

Two common examples of mis-labeling emotions are mistaking frustration for anger (and vice-versa), and "depression" for grief (sadness). These pairs feel similar, but differ in their origins and how to respond to them. Let's look more closely at the former.


Let's start with the premise that human "needs" are emotional, physical, and spiritual *discomforts* ranging from minor to overwhelming. So all of us (i.e. you) are prepetually "needy," like it or not.

*Frustration* is the normal emotional-mental response to being unable to fill (satisfy) one or more current needs. It feels like anger, but has a different cause and merits a different response.

If you agree, the next time you're frustrated, USE that to trigger the question - "What do I need right now?" Answering that thoughtfully empowers you to put the powerful skill of problem-solving to work (http://sfhelp.org/cx/skills/ps.htm) and identify options for reducing your current need(s). Use the same strategy when someone else (including kids) is frustrated.

Feeling irritated, angry, or enraged usually signal that you have just been - or may be - hurt and/or threatened. The anger response can follow these other normal emotions in a hearbeat. It is NOT subject to "logic" or control, any more than digesting food is.

The next time you feel significantly angry, breathe well, and reflect: "Am I feeling hurt or threatened by someone or something?" If so, that empowers you to reduce the hurt, protect against the threat, and/or guard against it happening again.

This awareness opens up a helpful way to react to angry people. Instead of labeling that as a "negative" behavior, try wondering or asking if the angry person is HURT or scared. That often will evoke a more compassionate response in you - even if they are angry with YOU. That can protect your self-esteem and relationship from "fight or flight" damage.


Expand your personal and social options by regarding ALL your emotions as natural, helpful signals - including shame and guilts. Distinguish between feeling and expressing your emotions. You can control expression (behavior), but not feeling.

Expressing emotions and related thoughts CAN be "positive" or "negative" in their personal and social impacts.

What would your life be like without fhe full rainbow of amazing emotions we're blessed with?

For more detail, see http://sfhelp.org/relate/anger.htm

Author's Bio: 

I've studied and taught communicaition and relationship basics and skills professionally since 1981. I'v published six guidebooks and an evolving nonprofit Web site (Break the Cycle! - www.sfhelp.org) to pass on what I've learned about these, healthy grieving, and recovery from childhood trauma. I maintained a private family-terapy prasctice from 1981 through 2007.