Managing Our Negative Emotions

By Engr. Carlos Cornejo

A good book in managing our negative emotions is the one authored by renowned psychologist Susan David, entitled “Emotional Agility”.  In her book she gave four ways to deal with destructive emotions such as anger, sadness, boredom, self-pity or nervousness.  First, she suggested we need to be more accurate in describing our emotions.  That we should be able to distinguish sadness from boredom, anger from hatred, anxiety from loneliness, etc. in assessing our emotions.  Describing more accurately our emotions is like describing symptoms of our sickness to a doctor.  A well-defined problem will be a much easier problem to solve.

Second, she advises us to accept our negative emotions.  Don’t run away from them by distracting ourselves with smartphone, use of social media or watching Netflix.  Running away from it would just make it come back with a vengeance.  I would want to inject a Christian remedy here.  Feeling our pain is I think what God also wants us to do rather than fighting it or denying it.  Christ Himself bore the pain of his agony in the garden for example along with all His other pains in His Passion and Death.  When we accept our pain and offer it up to God, it will help us tackle our problems more peacefully and gain for us the grace from God to be resilient during trials.  It does not mean we don’t seek remedy to our problems anymore and just bear the pain.  It is to look for a solution but at the same time accepting the pain, not denying it or running away from it.

Third, learn to detach yourself from a negative emotion.  She said when you hear a rude comment and experience anger, you don’t have to react aggressively.  You can take a second to step out of your emotion and choose to respond thoughtfully.  The analogy she gives is that a provoked negative emotion is like being in a car that is heading into a cliff.  You have the option to get out of it and let it fall off the cliff on its own.    As Viktor Frankl, the famous author of the book “Man’s Search for Meaning” would say, “Between stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space is the power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and freedom.”

Fourth, act according to your values.  With the bad emotion of anger for example you can turn it into good by thinking “I ought to respond calmly and let this contribute to my growth in patience.”  When your feel your pride is hurt, think of it as a way to practice humility.  When you feel bored perhaps it’s time to practice diligence or hard work.  Often times boredom is a lack of seriousness in our work or studies that makes us indulge in too much recreation.  Boredom is remedied by alternating work with recreation. We should only rest after having done our work.     When we feel depressed perhaps it is more of a spiritual rather than a clinical ailment.  That it might be a sickness of the soul rather than of the body.  Remember that pain is a feedback mechanism that points to a problem.  Sicknesses of the soul can only be remedied with medicines for the soul.  St. Josemaria Escriva would advise, “Are you unhappy?  Think:  there must be an obstacle between God and me.  You will seldom be wrong.” (The Way, 662) Most of the time God is the answer to our problems and one holy priest would even say God is always the answer.  We should go to Him for He is a Father who cares much for His children.  Perhaps what we need is a good confession, a helpful advice from a priest and putting our moral and spiritual life in order, then our life will be at peace.