Before starting this article, I would like to invite you to think about this: for you, what is a positive emotion? How does it feel? Do you enjoy it? Now, bring to your mind a negative emotion, what do you see? How do you feel a bad emotion? After doing this exercise, maybe some emotions were very easy to identify. Some people believe that there are positive and negative emotions, for example, happiness and sadness, the black and white. The best and most wanted emotion is happiness, everyone wants it, and on the other side, the bad and cruel sadness of course! Nobody wants to be sad, this is a very, very negative emotion. That is what we learned, and this is how we move all our pieces in life, trying everytime to be happy and running away from sadness. The reality is that emotions are not good or bad, they are just emotions. The main difference is the way we feel and live them.
Emotions help us to perceive the world we live in, and through them we can connect with other people; emotions remind us that we are alive and we are able to feel anything. There are some emotions that we do not know, and as any unknown experience, they scare us, but it does not mean that they are negative.
To change the way we look at emotions, it can be very useful to face them, and to learn from them as well. How can we do this? In the example I gave before, happiness is seen as a positive emotion and sadness as a negative one, but that is what we believe about these emotions, it is a belief. When we take the time to question why an emotion is good or bad, we can find some new answers. “I learned that crying is not good, it makes me weak”, “When I was child, my parents told me that I couldn’t express my anger”, “People say smiling all the time is good for the health”, these are some phrases that show that the way we perceive an emotion depends on what we learned about it.
Why an emotion is positive or negative? First, saying something is good or bad is a belief, and it is subjective, so it is different to other people; second, believes come up from our learning: the child that heard that crying is similar to weakness, as an adult will believe that to be a strong man he should not cry, and probably, for him, sadness or vulnerability are negative emotions; he will try every time to dodge them. And third, the way we take an emotion depends on the tools we have to experience them. But as I said before, if I do not know something, maybe it scares me and I won’t live it, but if I do not live it, how can I have the tools and the knowledge for the next time?
Those emotions that some people call negative help us know ourselves and grow. If one day we are happy, we feel proud of ourselves and very motivated, great! If another day we feel sad, disappointed or angry, it is great! We are humans! We are alive! And we are learning everytime how to live this life full of emotions, just emotions.
Citlalli Degollado is Gestalt Psychotherapist. She works with adults and couples. Currently she lives in Brighton, and she is a psychotherapist to Spanish people.
Citlalli Degollado es Psicoterapeuta Gestalt. Trabaja con adultos y parejas. Actualmente vive en Brighton y brinda terapia a hispanohablantes.