Good morning, world! Today I am going to address an issue with which I’ve been butting heads frequently – namely, how to deal with “negative emotions” when they arise, RESPONDING to them rather than REACTING and letting them overwhelm me. I am putting “negative emotions” in quotes here because there is a fair amount of social conditioning that goes into how we regard and even feel certain emotions. A simple example of this is shown in the polarized understanding and interpretation of something like “grief” in the West vs. in the “East,” where some forms of religious thought teach practitioners to regard any feeling as A feeling – in short, any feeling is necessarily just A FEELING – the negative and positive we learn to attribute to any given emotion is based inherently on how we have been “taught” to REACT to the stimulus or stimuli that “triggers” any given emotional response. There is, of course, also the “nature vs. nurture” debate at play here in trying to gauge just how much of an emotional response is actually an inherent reaction (for example, if I slam my hand in the door while I am shutting it, I necessarily feel pain, but it is questionable if I feel ANGER in the same kind of inherently “reactive” way). In short, there are many “schools of thought” that tell us we appropriate “opposing” modifiers “negative” or “positive” to emotions based on a variety of factors, learned or innate. To take this line of thought one step further using the “hand in door” example cited above, we can also see there is a difference between the EXPERIENCE of the feeling and the actual feeling itself; this becomes tortuous at best – both the experience of the feeling and the feeling cannot be defined except by utilizing subjective adjectives.
One could really write a book (or several!) on this subject – I don’t really want to dive too deeply into all of this “thought” regarding the determination of truth in defining seemingly binary emotions and responses. This is not really the point I am driving at here today – rather, I want to address the experience of the “negative emotions” with which I have had to deal over the last few months (maybe a year or two …). I also want to define “negative emotions” here as those things that generally make us feel uncomfortable in some way – “feelings” that elicit the experience that we have to either “get away” from them or we have to get over them quickly because we feel as if both the process of feeling them and the repercussions of feeling them are in and of themselves, negative. The sorts of feelings I’m talking about are things like “fear,” “anger” (that one is tough – I WILL come back to that one in a later post!), “sadness,” “loneliness,” “anxiety,” and “resentment” – basically emotions that WE GENERALLY REGARD AS UNPLEASANT TO EXPERIENCE (in the manner described above). I also want to make the distinction here between “anxiety” and “panic;” we often utilize the terms “anxiety” and “panic” interchangeably although the two are very different things (both by definition and by experience). For the sake of simplicity, for now I am just referring to the general feeling of unease, the sudden overwhelming feeling that you have to run or get away from SOMETHING, the ominous feeling that something very bad is going to happen, &c.,. “Panic disorder” is something more definitive – it is more of a biological response to an actual “trigger” (perceived or real) – it is that response to something that often comes out of the blue, affecting the afflicted with very empirically definitive symptoms. Although I also suffer from “Panic Disorder” (this also goes by a variety of names), for the sake of this post, I am simply talking about the perceptually “negative” experience of feeling anxious.
I don’t want to get into all of the reasons I have been experiencing such a deluge of “negative emotions” recently (it seems counterintuitive to know I am getting better PHYSICALLY and yet experience many more “negative” emotions than I had felt when I was so sick – that is a post in and of itself, as well!); rather, I want to address the SINGULAR reason I believe we experience ANY “negative” emotion. It is a simple, seemingly self-evident truth …
THE EXPERIENCE OF ANY NEGATIVE EMOTION OCCURS WHEN REALITY – OR MORE SPECIFICALLY, ONE’S EXPERIENCE OF REALITY – IS IN CONFLICT WITH ONE’S EXPECTATIONS FOR/OF THAT REALITY.
This is something that has been articulated in various ways in various belief systems in various parts of the world throughout history. I have never heard of or read the utilization of this sort of “definition” in the context of “explaining” EVERY “negative emotion;” however, I have engaged in quite a few “thought experiments” with myself over the last several days to see how true my thoughts on this subject might be. Every time I have experienced a “negative feeling” in REACTION TO some stimuli or thought (or memory, &c.), I have asked myself TWO important questions – 1. What is the reality of the situation? i.e., What is MY experience of the reality which has caused me to feel “negatively,” and 2. What is / are my expectation(s) for said reality?
Here is an example – as I have mentioned in previous posts, I have recently moved; however, my experience at this “new” location has been very different from what I had expected it to be. Yesterday I woke up VERY angry and grumpy; I was upset because I had been awakened by the uncannily loud sound of the toilet below me flushing – a sound I DID NOT EXPECT to be able to hear in my current living environment (part 1). My expectation of the situation was very different from this reality and the experience I had of this reality; I had EXPECTED that this would be like a single-family home and I would NOT be able to hear things like the TVs blasting loudly in adjacent units, people talking, or things like toilets flushing. My EXPECTATIONS of reality – thinking I was moving into a more or less SILENT living space – DID NOT AT ALL MATCH UP WITH THE REALITY OF THE SITUATION OR MY EXPERIENCE WITH THAT REALITY; as a result, I experienced the “negative” feelings of anger and grumpiness.
So that is my “Wednesday Wisdom” for this week! The next time you are feeling particularly “bad” about something, try to step back from the situation (RESPOND, DON’T REACT!); look at the actual situation and then look at your expectation(s) of it. You can even take this a step further and look at the situation much more “objectively;” in my example above, I can look at my expectation of near silence with the background realization that IN THIS REALITY there might be more noise than I had expected, but I do have a clean, safe, spacious home with electricity, clean water, &c. &c. I do not mean to point out that “I have it better than the rest of the world!” I know all too well how apt others are to remind the “chronically ill” how much “worse” things are for many people in the world. To anyone who is a “normal, healthy” person out there -PLEASE DO NOT SAY THIS TO SOMEONE WHO IS ILL OR DISABLED! The veracity of such a statement does not change the illness or disability of the person to whom you have said such a thing – it just makes them / US feel poorly about ourselves. All I mean with the “thinking a bit further” is that by giving yourself a little more “room,” you can see all different perspectives on existing REALITIES – and this sort of “objectification” can often smooth over the seemingly insurmountable discrepancy between your reality and your expectations for it.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post! I hope you are managing YOUR expectations and bridging the void between expectation and reality! It can be a very daunting task but I believe if we all start to work on these things we can not only make OUR lives better, but we can help those around us to feel better about their lives. And we can start to wipe out the negativity, one “experience” at a time. I hope you are having a happy and healthy day wherever you are in the world!
❤ Always, Beth
*NOTE: I added the “featured image” above because it seemed to fall in line perfectly with this post; today I was walking on the sidewalk in the rain; I looked down and saw a penny on the pavement. I went down to pick it up and the penny was lodged IN the pavement. I was excited about the prospect of finding a penny in an entirely residential area … but when I went to pick it up, I realized the reality of the situation was (and is!) that no one will be able to pull that penny out from its current position. The penny in the street = reality. My expectation of reality = thinking I had found some extra change. End result -> very minor upset (like … “OH SHUCKS!”), but it was just an interesting coincidence for the day!* Be well!