The upside of negative emotions

I talk a lot about how alcohol becomes a crutch: the ways in which we teach our brain to rely on a drink to make our discomfort more bearable. That discomfort can be anything from stress, loneliness, and boredom to anxiety, insecurity, and shame.

Most people I work with start out with the goal of experience fewer negative emotions, but focusing all your attention on avoiding certain feelings can actually keep you stuck. It’s impossible to go through life only experiencing positive emotions. We were designed to experience both the good and the bad, the positive and the negative. Yet, when stress, loneliness, boredom, anxiety, insecurity, and shame bubble up, our tendency is to think that something has gone wrong.

Yet, when stress, loneliness, boredom, anxiety, insecurity, and shame bubble up, our tendency is to think that something has gone wrong.

What if you viewed your emotions not as things to be enhanced or diminished but non-verbal indicators of what you’re thinking. Under this framework, you can see that  nothing has gone wrong when you experience a negative emotion. In fact, everything is working just the way it should.

The goal then is not to feel good all the time, but to learn that every negative emotion contains valuable information. For example:

  • Stress alerts me that I’m not making space for self-care.
  • Loneliness is a sign that I’m craving connection.
  • Boredom is an indication that I’m not feeding my curiosity.
  • Anxiety shows me that I need to practice resilience.
  • Insecurity announces that it is time to stop comparing myself to others.
  • Shame presents itself when I really need compassion.
The goal then is not to feel good all the time, but to learn that every negative emotion contains valuable information.

With this in mind, your negative emotions aren’t something you need to run and hide from. You also don’t need to numb yourself in order not to feel them. Rather, they’re signposts directing you to what you need in any given moment.

When you can view negative emotions in this light, you realize they have a powerful upside. They always show you the way forward.