Processing Negative Emotions

One of the common misconceptions I often come across is the idea that negative emotions (in and of themselves) are a hindrance to spiritual progress. The logic goes like this: I need to raise my vibrations to be a spiritual person, and negative emotions lower my vibration. Therefore, I need to stop having negative emotions.

There is another way that we fall into this trap. When we look at spiritual teachers, we notice how peaceful and loving they are, and then we decide that they want to be just as peaceful and loving. So we think to ourselves: “OK, I just need to stop being negative and start being peaceful.” Using this logic, you could look at a world-class sprinter and say: “I want to be as fast as that guy. All I need to do is stop running so slow and start running faster.” Obviously, this doesn’t work: to improve your speed would involve a lot of training and effort, as well as a fair amount of physical pain in the process.

The Benefit of Negative Emotions

Allowing yourself to feel the pain of negative emotions can be extremely beneficial, if done in a healthy manner. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s say that expressing emotions in a healthy manner means that the expression does not harm anyone (including yourself) emotionally or physically.

If we look at the bigger picture for a moment, we can observe that the reason that we are not at peace is that something is blocking us from experiencing it. These blocks are actually psychological defenses that keep us in constant fear. Anytime we feel negative emotions (which are caused by these defenses) we have the following choices:

  1. Suppress the emotions
  2. Ignore the emotions
  3. Process the emotions

Suppressing emotions

Suppressing our negative emotions is unhealthy, but it is what most of us have been taught to do as children. Think about what happens when a child throws a fit: the mother or father yells at the child to stop their bad behavior. What often does not occur is seeing a parent teach a child to express their frustration, anger, or pain in a healthy manner. For instance, when was the last time you saw a father tell his son: “Hey buddy, it’s OK to cry. It’s good for you because it helps you release those emotions you are feeling now. There is no reason to be ashamed. Let me sit with you and hug you while you are feeling bad.”

Most of us did not learn that there was a healthy way to express negative emotions. As a result, we believe (at least subconsciously) that we are bad people when we have negative emotions. As a result, we will (also subconsciously) suppress those negative emotions.

Suppressing emotions occurs by hiding them with some other activity. We eat when we are mad or angry. We might watch TV programs to hide from the pain of loneliness or boredom. And we turn to alcohol and drugs to hide from our anxiety or shame. In short, suppressing emotions often leads to unhealthy addictions.

Ignoring Emotions

Another possibility is to ignore negative emotions (although ignoring and suppressing emotions are generally both used together). Ignoring negative emotions is simply denying that they exist. We tell ourselves that we simply don’t feel the pain.

Ignoring emotions has negative consequences on our psychological health. Often, ignoring emotions leads to depression. It can also lead to anxiety. In other words, we subconsciously know that there is something wrong, but we refuse to consciously deal with the problem. This in turn will lead to issues such as trouble with sleeping or concentration.

One major issue with ignoring negative emotions is that it has the effect of causing us to become less sensitive to all emotions. In other words, by ignoring the negative emotions, we no longer feel the positive ones either, as we have desensitized ourselves to both the good and bad ones. People who no longer feel positive or negative emotions are in the first stage of depression, during which there is often a loss of interest in life in general.

Processing emotions

In simple terms, processing emotions means allowing yourself to feel them without judging the emotions themselves. Of course, this is difficult to do for people as long as they believe that having negative emotions is bad or harmful. But feeling negative emotions is not a problem as long as one allows them to be released. It is far more harmful to fear having negative emotions than it is to actually have them.

Let’s look at a quick example. Suppose that Robert likes a girl named Gina and is interested in dating her. However, Robert is afraid to ask her out because he doesn’t want to be hurt by rejection. This fear of rejection is a psychological defense meant to avoid the pain of rejection. But the psychological defense not only causes fear, but in this case is also preventing Robert from pursuing the opportunity of dating Gina. Without the fear, Robert could ask Gina out. If he was rejected, he could take it in stride and move on.

So once again: the psychological defenses that are meant to help us avoid pain actually cause us even more pain. And the more that we continue to avoid the pain and not feel it, the more that this unexpressed emotional energy will build up inside of us in our energy fields. When this happens, it is harder for energy to move within a person, which means that the person will vibrate at a lower lever.

Note that positive emotions operate at higher vibrations and negative emotions operate at lower vibrations. But it is one thing to allow a lower vibration to release itself, and another to keep it stuck in a person’s energy field. When emotions are allowed to be felt, they are released from the energy field. When this happens, a person has a greater capacity for vibrating higher. But emotions that are suppressed will remain in the energy field until they are released.

When emotions are stuck in our energy fields, the energy within us is constantly vibrating at a lower rate. This lower vibration is not pleasant, and we will never be at peace in life as long as we vibrate at a lower rate. In contrast, the more we clear out our stuck emotions, the higher the energy within us will vibrate. We will then be constantly experiencing more joy, love, passion, and other positive emotions. In addition, when we do experience negative emotions, they won’t bother us so much. Instead, it will be much easier to be at peace with whatever happens in our lives..

The Analogy of the Little Child

I find it helpful to think of negative emotions as if they were a little child. Imagine for a moment what you would do if you saw a little child who was crying or scared. Would you shout at the child to stop crying? Would you ignore the child and think: “that is not my problem”. Or would you go over and pick the child up in your arms and hug the child?

When we are dealing with negative emotions, it is critical to understand that they are not bad, and that they need our attention. Negative emotions do not make us bad people. They are simply energy that needs to be released from our energy fields in order to maintain our psychological health. But instead of doing this, most people abandon this little child inside, wishing it were not there and hoping that it will somehow go away.

Negative Emotions versus Being Negative

There is a difference between having negative emotions and being negative. Having negative emotions is not something you can control. But you can control your reaction to those emotions.

If you are always judging everything as negative, you get locked into a cycle of negativity. For example, let’s say that your coworker Cindy says something mean to you. If you have a negative outlook in general, you will judge Cindy to be an awful person. As a result, you are both hurt by the negative comment and angry at Cindy. And since you haven’t released the anger, you could easily go home after work and vent your anger on your spouse or children. And this pattern of being angry and expressing it negatively will simply repeat itself over and over again.

Reacting Positively

Now, let’s look at what happens when we choose to view the situation with Cindy differently. When Cindy says something mean to us, it is going to hurt and we will feel the pain. But we could be open to the possibility that Cindy is having a bad day. That doesn’t excuse her actions, but it does allow for the cultivation of compassion instead of anger. Additionally, we have released the pain from the hateful comment, and aren’t harboring any residual anger.

Once again, notice that being positive does not mean that our lives are free of painful incidents, or that we never feel negative emotions. Instead, it is about reacting to a painful situation without being defensive. The painful situation is not perceived as a personal attack. As a result, we can simply let the pain happen and then go on with life.

Dealing with Intense Pain

At times in our life, we go through intense emotional pain. The pain might be due to the loss of a loved one, going through a divorce, dealing with the trauma of sexual or physical abuse, or perhaps some sort of life crisis. In any of these cases, the pain is not something that can be quickly processed and released.

Regardless of the type of situation, the choices we have for dealing with the pain are exactly the same. The only difference is the severity of the pain that needs to be healed. In other words: instead of a child who is crying (if we return to that analogy), we have a child that has suffered a major accident and is recovering in an intensive care unit at the hospital. So if anything, we have to be even more gentle with ourselves and with this pain while we are processing through it, knowing that the wounding is much more serious and it’s going to take a significantly longer time for recovery.

If your own child was recovering in the hospital, would you be angry at them or ignore them? The answer is that you would care for them and be by their side as much as possible. And that is what needs to happen with the pain. You don’t ignore the pain or try to cover it up. Instead, you try to have compassion for it, and love yourself for being in this painful recovery period.

Loving the pain

In practical terms, let’s take a look at what this is like to be with the pain. The typical reactions to intense emotional pain are usually to either wish that we weren’t in this pain, and/or to feel that life isn’t fair.

So the first step is to center ourselves. Simply sit down somewhere and breathe deeply for a minute or so. If possible, try to feel your heartbeat.

The next thing to do is to bring your attention to the pain. It sometimes helps to label it. Say: OK, there is sadness here. Or: I can feel the heartache in me. Instead of saying “I am” (such as “I am sad”), see if you can pinpoint a location in your body where you feel the pain. It may be your stomach, your heart, your throat, etc.

Once you are aware of the pain, think of it as a small child that needs to be comforted. You don’t want to get rid of this child as if it isn’t wanted. And you don’t want to ignore this child. You simply want to sit and allow the child to feel your love and compassion for it. You may even want to visualize yourself wrapping your arms around this child and telling it “I love you”.

The goal is to be able to open your heart to love at the same time as you are feeling the pain. At first, you may not think that it is even possible to feel pain and love at the same time, but in fact it is. And this is what you are attempting to do. You want to comfort the pain that is in your body.

When the pain is ready, it will release itself. But wishing the pain to be released should not be the intention. Instead, the intention should be simply to be with the pain and love the pain to the fullest extent possible. If you are an intuitive person, you can even talk with the pain and ask if there is anything that it would like for you to do.

(And as a side note, be aware that although we are talking about emotional pain at the moment, this technique can work for major illnesses as well.)

After the recovery

Depending on the life situation, it can take months or even years to get over a particularly challenging event. But sooner or later, this will happen. And when it does, people often find that they feel differently than before. There is often a renewed sense of joy in life, and belief that things can and will get better. Often there is a feeling of being more at peace, and less burdened by life. And without most people realizing it, a major part of what happened in most cases was a significant release of stuck emotions that had accumulated over many years.

Awareness of Negative Emotions

Even when false beliefs have been cleared (or are in the process of being cleared), we will still experience negative emotions. This is simply part of being human. When this happens, it is appropriate to simply be aware of these emotions. Be aware of them as they rise up inside you, watch them as they crest like a wave, and then (as long as we haven’t attached to them and personalized them) the emotions will fade away out of our systems.


It is vitally important not to judge negative emotions or ignore them. When we judge our emotions, we fear them and try to avoid them. And this fear will lead us to a life that is depressing and unfulfilling.

The solution is to be aware of our negative emotions and treat them with tenderness and compassion. If we are not afraid of these emotions, we will not be afraid of avoiding them. This in turn will allow us to lead lives that are more rewarding, exciting, and fulfilling.

Photo by Fuu J