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How to Deal with Negative Thoughts and Feelings?

This lesson is a part of an audio course How to Overcome Perfectionism and Fear of Failure by Nar Mina

If we don't keep our emotions in control, the result might be Rude Comments, obscenities, an unrestricted flow of tears, or joy or misery. Fortunately, we learn to suppress our base instincts and to hide our raw feelings. Communities, families, and relationships would fall apart – if our emotions were always exposed.

We all at some time have felt a primal emotion – be it envy, desire, anger – toward a friend or colleague. If revealed, these feelings would have endangered our relationship with that person.

But there are also side effects to suppressing our true feelings.

While it's at times necessary to keep certain emotions out of sight (when we are with others), it may be harmful to try to keep them out of mind (when we are alone). We are taught that it is not ok to display our anxiety or to cry in public, so we hold our emotions back in private as well. Anger does not win us friends, and over time we lose our ability to express and experience anger altogether. We extinguish our anxiety, fear, and rage for the sake of being pleasant and easy to get along with – and in the process of getting others to accept us, we reject ourselves.

If we avoid thinking about traumatic or anxiety-producing topics, it may bring those topics to mind repeatedly. This leads to anxiety disorders.

Rather than trying to suppress or avoid unwanted thoughts, try to"accept and express them."

The Perfectionist rejects his emotions, not only by refusing to express them but also by refusing to allow himself to experience them. Therefore these emotions intensify – which is the opposite of what he intended.

You should allow yourself to think of the stuff that's bothering you, and then after a while, the thought would naturally go away – just as every thought eventually does. The attempt to actively suppress a thought, to fight it and block it, keeps it fresh and intense.

Similarly, emotions such as anxiety, anger, or envy intensify when we try to suppress them when we try to fight them and block their natural flow. Allow yourself to experience painful feelings. By doing so, these emotions are more likely to weaken and fade away.

For example, if you stop trying to suppress your anxiety during public speaking and allow yourself to feel nervous – when you accept your anxiety and give it permission to be – it'll start to weaken.

But don't just pretend to accept anxiety. You have to truly accept your emotions for what they are and truly be willing to live with them. This means that you have to accept painful emotions even when they persist beyond your wants or wishes. Genuine acceptance is about acknowledging that we are upset. That we might not feel better even though we accept what we are feeling right now.

We spend most of our life engaged in the journey, because the actual moments when we reach our destinations and achieve our goals are fleeting. If most of what we derive from the journey is unhappiness and pain, then our life as a whole is unhappy and painful.

Perfectionists have a tendency to have low self-esteem because their fault-finding is directed inward. They will manage to find something wrong, magnify it out of all proportion, and thus ruin any possibility of enjoying what they have or what they are doing.

The potential for happiness is inside us and all around us, so is the potential for unhappiness.

We all experience sadness at times, of course, but we should take each difficult experience in stride. Take a "this too shall pass" approach to problems and focus on the experience of the journey.

Life is not without its ups and downs. We all have moments of deep sadness and frustration. But our life need not be marred by the constant expectation of failure or the impact of actual failure.

Perfectionist does not distinguish minor failures from major ones. She obsessively worries about these "catastrophes" that are just around the corner. That's why she experiences ongoing anxiety and sometimes panic.

If you're more flexible and open to deviations, you are better able to cope with the ever-changing environment. At times we struggle with change, but we can deal with the unpredictable and the uncertain. Look at change, not as a threat but a challenge; the unknown doesn't need to be frightening, it can be fascinating.

We can grow and lead richer, fuller lives by accepting the laws of human nature. And, like it or not, painful emotions are part of that nature.

Rather than trying to rid ourselves of our anxiety, we can try to induce further anxiety – we should encourage ourselves to feel more anxious, more nervous. As a result, because we allow the anxiety to flow freely through us, it weakens. Instead of fighting it, call forth more of it! Exhort yourself to be more anxious, more nervous.

Another way of dealing with anxiety is to imagine the worst-case scenario. Imagine the worst event happening and concentrate on it as hard as you can. Do not avoid this thought or image, since avoiding it will defeat the whole purpose of dealing with anxiety.

This way, you will fully experience the emotion and the discomfort that comes with the imagined scenario. Only then proceed to the next level and try to calm down and deal with the irrationality of your thoughts. While your anxiety initially intensifies as a result of worry exposure, anxiety levels soon drop below what they were original.

The more you look at anger, the more it disappears. When you genuinely look at it, it suddenly loses its strength. The same applies to envy, sadness, anxiety, hate, and other painful emotions.

Intentionally, mindfully focusing on the physical manifestations of depression helps in overcoming depression. Trying to get rid of depression in the usual problem-solving way, trying to “fix” what's “wrong” with us, just digs us in deeper. The solution to some of our psychological problems lies not in fixing/doing, but in accepting/being.

Accepting our emotions means looking at them in a benign way, welcoming them as part of our nature, as something interesting and worthy.

It is important to distinguish between accepting painful emotions and ruminating on them. Acceptance involves gently being with the emotion; rumination involves obsessively thinking about the emotion.

Rather than having thoughts playing in an endless loop in our heads (ruminating), we can express our thoughts verbally or in writing. Keeping a personal journal in which we express our thoughts and feelings can be useful. Those who spend 15-20 minutes of their day writing about difficult experiences are ultimately happier and physically healthier. Expressing our thoughts and sharing our feelings in conversation with someone we trust can be as helpful as expressing them in writing. We should, when possible, provide a channel for the expression of our emotions. We can talk to a friend about our anger and anxiety, write in our journal about our fear or jealousy, join a support group of people who are struggling with issues similar to ours.

Certain feelings are inescapable. No person is free from the experience of jealousy or fear or anxiety, or anger. The real question is not whether we experience these feelings – we all do – but what we decide to do about them. Our first choice is whether to reject or accept our emotional reaction, whether to suppress or acknowledge that which is. Our second choice is whether to act on our initial impulse (for instance, to stop collaborating with people we're jealous of) or whether to go beyond it (create as many alliances with talented people as we possibly can). The second choice is made significantly easier if we choose to accept our feelings: negative emotions intensify and are more likely to control us if we try to suppress them.

When you're feeling envious of someone else, think about this: her life probably isn't as great as it looks. The people who appear to have the most going for them often have major problems, but you don't see them because they are working so hard to appear perfect. It's their way of grasping for control.

If we refuse to accept that we can be jealous of a friend, we are likely to behave badly toward him and then rationalize our behavior. If we do not accept that we are afraid to ask someone out, we are likely to avoid that person and then convince ourselves that we didn't really like her anyway. If you deny that your feelings toward your friend are driven by jealousy, you may look for an alternative explanation for your discomfort around him. We are creatures of feeling and reason, and once we feel a certain way, we have the need to find a reason for our feeling. Rather than dealing with the real reason for your emotional reaction, rather than admitting to feelings of which you do not approve, you will probably justify your discomfort around him by finding fault with him. To avoid thinking ill of ourselves, we often condemn the people we have wronged.

We pollute our environment with our unacknowledged thoughts and feelings. If you deny your jealousy toward somebody, you are more likely to blame him and others for being jealous.

By suppressing your real feelings, you may harm yourself, your friend, and your relationship. We may not like the weather, but weather in itself is neither good nor bad – it simply is. Similarly, we may not like feeling fear, but the feeling itself is neither good nor bad – it, too, simply is. Feeling jealousy toward your friend does not make you a bad friend; if however, you jeopardize your friend's success because of your jealousy, then you are a bad friend. It is OK to Feel anxious when you meet a person you would very much like to go out with. It is not Ok running away from something you very much want, because you fear being turned down.

Acceptance is about recognizing things as they are and then choosing the course of action we deem appropriate and worthy of ourselves.

At every moment in our life, we have a choice – to be afraid and yet to act courageously, to feel jealous, and yet to act benevolently,

Researchers who study happiness have found that we all have a baseline for happiness. Having something very good happen may lift you above your baseline for a while, but you'll eventually return to your previous happiness level. The same is true if you suffer a trauma – you'll struggle for a while, but you'll probably return to your pre-trauma happiness level. People are amazingly resilient that way.

That doesn't mean you're stuck with your current happiness level – you can raise it. If you think negatively about yourself – you are dragging down your ability to feel happy.

If you can teach yourself to focus on the positive rather than the negative, if you can learn to curb your perfectionist tendencies and be less critical of yourself, you can feel happier on an everyday basis.

This is the end of lesson 10. In the next lesson, I'll talk about our expectations and disappointments.

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Written by

Nar Mina

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