Have you ever stopped to consider the question: what is the real difference between positive and negative emotions?
Most people accept that emotions such as fear, sadness, guilt, etc. are a part of life, but they view them as an unwanted part of life. The bad part.
It’s important to understand the difference since the avoidance of negative emotions is one of the biggest obstacles in our lives.
To be clear, practicing gratitude and positive thinking are completely valid strategies for living a happier life, but their purpose is not to get rid of negative emotions. While we can choose thoughts that trigger positive emotions, we also benefit from experiencing/feeling our negative emotions in order to release them (and avoid suppressing them).
To become more comfortable experiencing ALL emotions, the first step is understanding what emotions actually are.
Emotions = Energy
Have you ever stopped to consider what makes up our emotions and feelings? We spend our lives pursuing what we think will produce good feelings, but what are they, really?
Emotions are the experience of energy moving through the body.
Emotions live inside of us, and may or may not be concentrated in specific areas of the body. What happens when we become overwhelmed with sadness and begin to sob? Our lungs start convulsing. Have you ever been angry and felt your chest begin to tighten? Or, after receiving fantastic news, have you ever suddenly felt lighter on your feet? Emotions constitute very real forms of energy inside our bodies.
Emotions are a human experience. They are meant to be felt. They are, in and of themselves, harmless – yet, we avoid them like the plague! It is when we attempt to suppress them that they begin to cause problems for us. So, let’s take a look at the difference between positive and negative emotions and how we learn to embrace both of them in our lives.
Positive & Negative Emotions
It’s important to understand that emotional energy is essentially neutral. Labeling an emotion negative or positive is another way of saying what feels “good” vs “bad.” These are all our own interpretations of different forms of energy. Yes, sadness is just a different form of energy!
We also know that human beings gravitate toward the forms of energy we label “positive”, so let’s explore the differences.
Positive Emotion = Expansion
What we label as positive emotions are typically those that lead to expansion within our physical body. Think about what happens when you feel an emotion you label as happy, excited, calm, or peaceful. You might feel a surge of energy where your chest opens, your jaw relaxes, and your mouth widens into a smile. You might feel your muscles relax and your breath become slower and deeper. Or, you might feel a heck of a lot lighter. We typically call this feeling good.
It is, in many cases, the joy we feel from growing and expanding.
Negative Emotion = Contraction
Negative emotions are often correlated with fear and tied to our natural fight or flight response. When we experience a perceived threat, fear causes us to seize up. We contract, constrict, and prepare for battle, whether we choose to attack or defend. Our bodies can react this way to a threat whether it is real or perceived (psychological). Fear is often expressed as anger.
Sadness can be thought of as a longing for a need that’s perceived to be missing (a loss of and yearning for connection, as an example). At the core is a fear of vulnerability or loss of control over one’s circumstances.
Embracing ALL Emotions
Negative emotions are the catalyst for positive emotions. If the process of contraction is allowed to happen, eventually our bodies (and minds) will naturally relax and expand.
When we talk about “dealing with” negative emotions, we tend to focus on making them go away. However, it’s essential to process any negative emotions that are trying to surface in order to create new positive emotions.
Now that you understand the difference between positive and negative emotions, you may want to check out my other post to understand what processing emotion actually looks like.