Why Negative Emotion Is Essential Feedback And What It Means
When a couple seeks help with their marriage, what they want most is to feel better about how they get along Maybe they want better communication — they don’t enjoy walking away from an interaction with each other feeling bad about it. They don’t want to feel critical, they want to feel loving. They don’t want to reject, they want to accept. They don’t want to argue, they want to discuss or explore.
Basically, couples ask me how to have more happiness and ease in their relationship. They are looking for ways to feel less negative emotion and more positive emotion.
In every session, we begin with where they are, by validating where they stand. Initially, many people find this somewhat counter-intuitive, meaning that they don’t like where they stand, so why in the world should they feel self-approval for what seems to be causing them all sorts of trouble? They believe they should push away from where they stand as fast as possible, not embrace it. But in the session, we embrace it, because there is a gift in where they stand.
For starters, where any couple stands is a perfectly legitimate place to be or they wouldn’t be there. There are very good reasons to be thinking what they are thinking, or feeling what they are feeling, and together, we find them. Unless we embrace where we are, we drag the past along into a new situation without meaning to, and can’t figure out why a problem follows us. It’s the idea that what we resist persists.
So a beginning point in every session is learning to welcome where we are, and welcome the gift of being there. One of those gifts usually involves welcoming negative emotion and seeing its value.
While anger, sadness or blame don’t feel heavenly, these negative emotions are actually helpful. Negative emotion is a signal that we’ve just disagreed with how our Higher Self thinks. Negative emotion is a clue from our all-knowing Self that what we’re thinking isn’t going to help us get where we say we want to go. It’s not going to help us receive what we say we prefer. Negative emotion is a flag.
Let’s say you want a loving relationship with your husband. You’ve decided this. The two of you are pretty good at getting along, but every couple can use help here and there, and you’re no exception. You love being together and both of you are open to upgrades to your “couple-ness.”
And here you are, moving about your day, and things are going quite swimmingly — until the two of you go suddenly sideways! He just said something that makes you irrationally and instantly upset and now you’ve gone and slammed a door. You’re in a huff. To make your point (and maybe give it extra clout) you’re walking out the door. You’re done talking. He’s wrong. You’re right. This is a moment where being right is clearly more important than being in love.
Are you with me? Have you done this?
Ah, probably. We’re human, and we humans have emotional wounds — we have ouchy places. You may have noticed that when someone pokes your ouchy place, it can cause an emotional ruckus.
So the question is not whether somebody’s ever going to poke our wounds. Someone will
The question is, then what? Then what will we do?
Notice what’s happening and how you’re feeling and say it aloud if possible. You can also say it silently to yourself, if that’s more appropriate to the situation.
“Wow, I notice I’m really upset about this!” or “Whoa. I notice I’m really amped up about this.” or “I notice I am totally, completely, 100% pissed off.”
Saying “I notice…” does a brilliant thing for you: It puts you outside the reaction just enough to no longer be IN the reaction, or be (so much) at the mercy of the reaction.
You become the reporter. You’re the Observer, and this is where all good and worthwhile change can begin.
Notice your body.
What’s going on? Do you feel tense? Where? How’s your breathing? Your heart? Again, this puts you in Observe Mode. You’re outside, looking in. You’re not stuck as the doer of the action, you’re watching yourself.
For now, practice this step. No need to change anything, just notice. Next time, we’ll talk about change.