Here’s an analogy inspired by Pixar’s Inside Out.
Think of each feeling as if it were a distinct kind of friend.
Some of your friends are great at making you smile and laugh. These friends are like feelings of happiness and cheerfulness.
Some friends are great at making you feel good about yourself. These friends are like feelings of pride and self-confidence.
Some friends are very loyal to you, but they won’t hesitate to challenge you on things that are unpleasant or inconvenient to hear. They’re not as fun and positive as the friends who make you laugh about your troubles, but they’re just as important to your personal growth as the other friends. If you avoid these kinds of friends just because they can be tough to listen to at times, you’re only going to deprive yourself of information that’s essential to your progress.
These friends are like the feelings we call “negative emotions.”
When you feel angry, frustrated, irritated, or resentful, these feelings are like the friends who are inconveniently shining a light on the areas of your life that need constructive attention.
They make us uncomfortable, but they usually make us better if we choose to respond to them with an open mind.
Ignoring your negative feelings or trying to spin them into something positive isn't healthy, but neither is wallowing in them. Instead, you should try to learn from them.
So, in the spirit of open-minded inquiry, ask yourself “What are my feelings teaching me?”
If you move too quickly in the direction of trying to concoct a positive interpretation of the frustrating things that happen in your life, you might miss out on an opportunity to discover underlying issues and insights that could radically alter it.
One of the biggest mistakes we make in our efforts to create personal freedom is forcing ourselves to be positive about all the things we dislike.
“I hate my job, but I’m trying to be positive about it.”
“People treat me like crap everywhere I go, but I’m doing my best to stay positive about it all.”
Statements like these are completely understandable. Life moves on whether we feel good or not. And part of being successful means you have to figure out how to keep putting one foot in front of the other in spite of the unfair and upsetting things that happen around you.
But those negative emotions that you’re trying to be positive about might be messengers trying to tell you something useful rather than devils trying to torment you for their own perverse pleasure.
When you resent your feelings, you resist the unique form of wisdom that your feelings can provide.
If you hate your job, you should still keep your agreements with them as long as you’re taking a paycheck BUT you should also listen to that hate because it might be telling you that it’s time to move on to something new or that it’s time to communicate something that’s been bothering you.
If you feel hurt that no one respects you, you should try to be less dependent on what other people think BUT you should also listen to those hurt feelings because they indicate a genuine need you have for healthy boundaries in your relationships. A little processing can go a long way towards helping you make adjustments that will cause people to treat you differently.
A question that I often ask in my workshops is “What’s right about your anger?”
This is usually very hard for people to answer because they’ve been conditioned to only think in terms of what’s wrong about their anger.
But the things that anger us are often clues to things that need to be changed about our world or our way of seeing the world. And if you never take the time to identify what those things are because you’re too busy pushing the anger aside or pretending that it’s not there, you don’t get to be one of the people who creates those changes.
So instead of ignoring your negative feelings, find a way to channel that energy along creative and constructive lines.
You have to let your feelings be before you can let your feelings go.
You can’t release what you resent.
You can’t process what you push away.
Instead of forcing yourself to be positive about your negative emotions, free yourself to be philosophical about them.
What are your negative feelings teaching you about your preferences, priorities, principles, and practices?