Archana Law explains why it’s important to dump negativity

Philosophers have long been perplexed by the way in which works of art elicit emotions – including so-called ‘negative emotions’ like pity, fear, sorrow and anger. It is difficult to fathom why these works of art are still valued and enjoyed despite the unpleasant emotions experienced!

Many of us hold grudges for years. As we carry the additional  emotional baggage with us, we’re unable to let go of our anger or sense of hurt towards the person who has wronged us despite the associated pain.

So why do we cling on instead of moving on?

Grudges carry an identity tag of being wronged. There is a strength of sorts in this identity; so it’s difficult to let go of the strength, purpose and sympathy of being wronged.

Researchers agree that people who play the victim do so – albeit unintentionally – because they deny their anger at being hurt, are afraid of its existence in themselves, project it onto other people and anticipate aggression or harm from them. They fail to recognise or exercise the power they have in the situation.

It would seem like they know they’re suffering and yet don’t take simple steps that might lift their mood; it’s almost as if they choose sadness. Depending on the context, this is referred to as the ‘paradox of emotions.’ Here are some thoughts on this vexed issue.

EXPERIENCE All emotions are a part of the human experience and in themselves aren’t bad. They’re simply states and signals that allow us to pay more attention to the events that create them – either to motivate us to create more or less of a certain experience. The negative thoughts also exist for a reason and can in fact be quite useful to experience

REACTIONS Anger, fear, resentment, frustration and anxiety are emotional states that many people experience regularly but try to avoid – they make us uncomfortable, and create more stress in our body and mind. Holding on to negative emotions causes a downward spiral, which stop us from thinking and behaving rationally, and seeing situations in their true perspective. We tend to see and remember only what we want, prolonging our anger or grief and preventing ourselves from enjoying life.

The longer this goes on, the more entrenched the problem becomes. Dealing with negative emotions inappropriately can also be harmful. For instance, expressing anger through violence is damaging to all the parties concerned.

Emotions are complex reactions – psychological (what we think) and biological (what we feel). The brain responds to our thoughts by releasing hormones and chemicals that send us into a state of arousal, which is why we find it hard to cope when we experience them.

WELLBEING A better approach is to manage rather than deny them. However complex this may seem, it doesn’t mean avoidance, denial or letting negative emotions wreak havoc on your life, relationships and health. Managing negative emotions is more about embracing what we feel, determining why we’re feeling this way and allowing ourselves to receive the messages that our emotions are sending us – before releasing them and moving on.

For instance, anger and anxiety show that something needs to change, and that our well-being is under threat. Fear is an appeal to increase our level of safety. Resentment and frustration motivate us to change something in a relationship. Here are some proven strategies to help you manage your emotions.

OPTIMISM Envisioning your best possible self and what that would be like is known to lift one’s mood, and bring a sense of optimism with lasting benefits. This can be done as a journal exercise or simply a visualisation technique for about five to 10 minutes daily. It basically involves envisioning and challenging yourself to be the best possible version of you.

GRATITUDE This involves expressing gratitude to people who have done kind things for you, both minor and major. Expressions of gratitude can include a letter to an elementary school teacher who inspired you to be your best or a visit to a neighbour to let him know you appreciate knowing he is there for you and your family.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a letter or visit, what’s important is letting someone know that you appreciate their presence and support. Gestures like this help strengthen relationships and also bring lasting positive feelings, for both the giver and receiver.

POSITIVITY Create a day that’s filled with positive experiences that you’d have while on vacation and minimise the stress in your regular schedule. It operates under the same premise that other positivity building exercises follow. An increase in positive emotional states brings a greater sense of optimism, resilience and minimal stress.

As Marcus Aurelius once opined, “reject your sense of injury and the injury itself disappears!”