Have you been avoiding your negative emotions?

In summary, its important to first acknowledge your feelings, accept that these feelings are valid, reduce resistance towards these feelings, try to use positive self-talk, work out what needs might be going unmet

Have you been avoiding your negative emotions?
Photo by Kinga Cichewicz / Unsplash

I have been doing a lot of thinking recently about negative emotions.

I have learnt so much about the importance of self-compassion and feeling your feelings, but putting this into practice can be difficult. While growing up, a lot of people (including me) were told which emotions were okay to feel and which were not okay. Now anytime I experience anxiety, sadness, anger... I dislike this part of me and wish I didn't have these emotions. Thoughts run through my mind like:

"Why am I like this?"
"This reaction is so unnecessary"
"I wish I could just stop feeling this way"
"Why can't I just be happy?"

But this type of thinking creates resistance, which acts to prolong the negative feelings. The more I berate myself for having negative emotions and try to push them away, the stronger they become.

My usual way to 'escape' these feelings has been to use numbing coping mechanisms, like endless scrolling or watching movie after movie to avoid thinking or feeling. Numbing can allow you to 'get through' to the other side of these feelings, however, numbing acts to prolong the experience and perpetuates the unhealthy relationship you might have to your emotions.

Acknowledge your feelings

The first step is to acknowledge your feelings for what they are. There is no need to label them as good or bad. They just are. Knowing that you are going to have negative feelings is not the same thing as accepting them when they happen. Try using affirming language such as:

"I am feeling anxious and that is okay"
"It was a hard day today, and that's all"
"I feel sad and that is understandable and valid"
"It is okay to cry"

Try to avoid any berating or critical self-talk in regards to experiencing your emotions. If you do notice these self-critical thoughts arising, notice them and try to let them go. You don't need to delve into them or be annoyed at the self-criticsm itself. Just notice, and let it go.

You can acknowledge your feelings in your mind, in a journal or to a friend. All of these modes are valid and it will depend on you and your current headspace as to which will be most helpful in each individual situation.

Work out your needs

Often times there are unidentified needs that aren't being met which can cause negative emotions to arise without an obvious reason.  For example, your need for space, your need for connection, your need for validation, your need for safety, or your need for autonomy. There are many lists of basic human needs you can find by searching online.

I find it helpful to identify my needs by asking myself:

"What do I need right now?"
"What is behind this feeling?"
"What am I ultimately seeking from this situation?"

Once you identify your needs, it is a lot easier to resolve the situation and relieve yourself of the negative emotions that arose from your needs being unmet. Sometimes our actions and emotional reactions do the opposite of our intent and delay our needs being met even further (i.e. pushing our partner away when we really want their support and validation). So don't use your emotional reactions as a way to identify your need but try to go beyond that and work out the outcome you're really wanting deep down.

Take intentional action

Once you have acknowledged and accepted your emotions as they are, and looked at what needs might need to be met, it's time to be intentional about moving towards a more stable emotional place. The important thing to remember is that it is not about finding the fastest way back to being happy and joyous. You want to stay intentional and self-compassionate as you take your time adding in actions that will assist you in your journey through the emotions you're experiencing.

These actions might be similar to those that help with nervous system regulation, as often times when we experience an emotional reaction it is linked to the fight. flight or freeze response.


The key to moving from freeze (sadness, despair, etc.) is to mobilise. For example, play music and move your body, do a task that helps your future self like the dishes, go for a walk or do a yoga session.

Fight or Flight

To move from fight or flight (anxiety, anger, etc.) you can choose calming and self-protective actions. For example, journal, take a bath, read a book, or talk to a friend. The idea is to remind your nervous system and your mind that you are safe.

In summary, its important to first acknowledge your feelings, accept that these feelings are valid, reduce resistance towards these feelings, try to use positive self-talk, work out what needs might be going unmet, and be intentional about which actions might help you move through the emotions without focusing on getting back to 'happy' as fast as possible.