Created by the Center for Spirituality & Healing and Charlson Meadows.

Deal with Negativity in a Healthy Way

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Increasing your positivity doesn’t mean becoming unreasonably naïve or optimistic in the face of suffering. It’s just as important to recognize that pain is simply a natural wave in the flow of life. In fact, experiencing and processing negative emotions in a healthy way can be an important part of personal growth.

People tend to make two mistakes when confronted with a negative emotion: they either ruminate or obsess over the problem, or they try to numb their emotions because they feel too overwhelmed.

Both of these habits can create harmful patterns in the mind. Rumination is deceptive because it feels productive to “think things through,” but gratuitously obsessing over a situation that caused pain only reinforces the strength of the negative thoughts and emotions. Numbing the emotions does not work either, according to researcher Brené Brown, because it’s not possible to selectively numb an emotion—in other words, if you try to blot out your anger, you’ll blot out happiness and serenity along with it. Similarly, avoidance of an experience does not allow us to find other ways to deal with it: if we deal with sadness by using alcohol to numb ourselves, we don’t learn how to cope with sadness (and we potentially develop another problem with overuse of alcohol).

Instead, experts recommend developing healthy coping skills that involve recognizing the necessity and inevitability of some suffering and moving beyond it. This process may include:

  • Staying present with the negative feelings and practice watching them with a gentle, nonjudgmental attitude. Recognize when they are triggered by thoughts, and assess whether your emotions are responding to what you are thinking or what is actually happening.
  • Recognizing that pain is often a catalyst for growth and resilience.
  • Seeking out the support of others.
  • Practicing forgiveness for those who have caused pain.
  • Identifying unhealthy or ruminative thought patterns and gently letting them go.
Reviewed by: 
Kate Hathaway, PhD

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