Handling My Negative Feelings

We are rational and emotional beings. We often assume that our ability to reason is our highest attribute. Perhaps. But I’d suggest that we’re more than thinking machines. We feel, and from our feelings emerges the depth and richness of our lives.

As you know, I’m a student of happiness and believer in the field of positive psychology and science of happiness. We know a lot about what makes people happy and most of us can increase our happiness by understanding and applying these strategies.

Nevertheless, and paradoxically, the pursuit of happiness is not about eliminating or disallowing negative moods and feelings. (In fact, in my last blog, I talked about the importance of feeling the sadness and other emotions that come with our “Goodbyes.”) Negative emotion is not the opposite of happiness. In fact, consider that we wouldn’t even know the meaning of happiness (or optimism, hope, joy, excitement, love) if not for their opposites. A full and meaningful life includes negative feelings.

So don’t make the mistake of believing that you can’t be happy, or something is wrong with you, or that you’re not a good person because you feel negative emotions. As human beings we all experience a myriad of negative emotions.

Although people have published lists that include hundreds of different emotions or at least nuances of emotion, here are the most common. Most negative emotions could be considered as variations of these themes.

  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Guilt
  • Inadequacy
  • Sadness

By definition these emotions don’t feel good and so we often deny, minimize, avoid, or distract ourselves from feeling them through various mind-numbing or addictive behaviors which only sets us up to act them out in unhealthy ways. An alternative is to recognize them as inevitable, even necessary to our growth. In general, our negative feelings help us:

  • Become more self-aware
  • Recognize something inside us needs to be healed
  • Develop wisdom and depth
  • Know what is important to us
  • Avoid people or situations that are not for our good or will lead to poor outcomes
  • Take some form of action

To be more specific, anger can help us better honor or take care of ourselves when someone has crossed a boundary or is treating us poorly.

Fear and anxiety can prompt us to be cautious and use good judgment.

Guilt makes us more moral beings. It helps us become more socially sensitive and caring than we’d otherwise be.

Self-doubt may cause us to take stock of ourselves and develop discipline and skills to be more successful.

Sadness lets us know that we have lost something of value and need to find new sources of comfort or new ways to move on.

Rather than deny, repress, or avoid them, our goal should be to listen to our negative emotions and either learn from them or act on them. Here are some recommendations for dealing with your negative emotions.

  1. Recognize them. Recognizing your feelings is the first step to dealing with them in an emotionally mature way. Recognizing them means you are both aware of them and able to put a label on them. Admitting that you’re feeling hurt, anxious, or sad is incredibly powerful. It not only keeps you honest but is a gateway to making healthy choices.
  2. Accept them. Breathe into them and allow yourself to experience them fully. I taught a process for doing this a few months back (How to Deal with Anything that is Troubling You). Take a moment to sit quietly and notice the emotion without acting it out or trying to make it all better. This is not resignation. It’s trusting the ebb and flow of life knowing that “this too shall pass.”
  3. Learn from them. By quieting our minds rather than distracting ourselves when negative emotions come up, we can learn about ourselves and relationships. What is going on? What is the message hidden within these feelings? What wisdom can I gain by simply listening? We often think the courage is in acting in the face of strong emotions. But it often takes even greater courage to be quiet and receptive.
  4. Challenge any distorted thinking. Our emotions and thoughts are closely linked. In fact, our emotions generally trail our perceptions and thoughts. We have a perception or form a conclusion and the feelings follow. Although negative feelings are normal, we amplify them by how we think about situations and events. For example, a friend tells you about a lunch with another friend. If you, consciously or unconsciously tell yourself “He had so much fun and obviously enjoys this person more than me,” you’ll likely feel anxious, angry or even jealous. The event did not create the feelings. How you talk to yourself did. We tend to distort our feelings by catastrophizing (make events bigger than they are), over simplifying, mindreading, minimizing the good and exaggerating the bad, or predicting the future with limited information. When feelings become particularly big and troublesome, we’re usually guilty of some of these distortions. So some of our learning may be to challenge our thinking and make it more rational.
  5. Decide what action to take. Sometimes there is nothing to do. Just be with the feelings and allow them to ebb and flow. On other occasions we may need to take some kind of action—talk more openly to a loved one or friend, get out of a bad situation, better prepare to meet a challenge. The action isn’t acting out the emotion but is doing something that is healing or strengthening or promotes our long-term growth. Some form of action is often an outcome of the other four steps.

I don’t mean for these five steps to sound like a quick fix. There is no such thing when we talk about dealing with negative feelings. But following the steps sets us on a pathway of growth that enriches us, makes us wiser, and gives us the strength to handle the hard things of life.



  1. Margaret Leckie

    Your insight has been a gift in our lives at a time when we needed it. Thanks, Roger, am loving hearing about your India adventures.

  2. Jill Duncan

    After reading ‘The Hero’s Choice and now reading this short essay on ‘handling my negative feelings’, you are changing my life for the better 🙂 the negative perspectives I have held onto for so long, masked beneath a happy exterior, are now fading and being replaced by more positive perspectives; my inside is starting to match my outside! thank you!

    • Roger Allen

      Thanks Jill. I’m happy to hear that you’re getting a more positive perspective on you life. My best as you continue this journey. Roger

  3. Pam

    Sending loving thoughts toward India ..can u feel them?

    • Roger Allen

      We can. Thank you very much, Pam. Things are going very well.

  4. Mary Tharp

    Dr. Allen,
    I have very recently discovered your writings on Facebook and particularly discovered that exerpts from “The Hero’s Choice” are relevant to my own issues with emotional immaturity. I’m a72-Year-old widow, with two grown children, living in a new community and out of touch with most “old friends.” I really think that I have been emotionally immature much of my adult life. Is it too late to correct my old, immature habits and build a new, happier life for myself? Where to start?

    • Roger Allen

      Hi Mary. It is never too late to start. Most important is desire which you seem to have. I do have a book and work book. You can start there. Roger


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