By Anil Bhatnagar
Mounting stress, rotting careers, recurring unpleasant episodes, lingering fatigue and depression, failing relationships, accidents and all kinds of diseases ranging from recurring colds to full-blown third stage of cancer! Isn’t it already too much of a price that we are paying for not learning just one very simple thing-how to manage our negative emotions effectively?
Prabhat Verma (except this, names in the other case histories have been changed on request), though only an average student, was the darling of our class in school. It was almost 20 years later that I met Prabhat again-a man walking listlessly, with his head slightly bent forward.
Having heard my story, Prabhat spoke his heart out: ‘I was not as lucky, Anil. Only a year after shifting to the new school, the principle chucked me out. One of the teachers had said something derogatory about my parents. And before I knew, I had already hurled a paperweight at my teacher’s forehead with all the rage and power I had.’
He is now working as a helper in a shop. Hurling a paperweight at your boss even in anger might seem unimaginable, but are you conscious of what you do when in the grip of a negative emotion? Do you observe in your life a pattern of recurring illnesses, accidents, bitter relationships or professional ill luck? Consider these cases:
· An orthopaedician herself, Dr Sameeksha’s foot was in a plaster yet again-her third accident that year. ‘I don’t know why this is happening to me. I can understand it medically, but I don’t quite know how to prevent it,’ she says with frustration in her voice.
· Keertan was sure that this time the girl he was marrying (after three years of acquaintance) would stick with him. But this one turned out to be as short-lived as his earlier two marriages. ‘If I were to choose all over again, I will probably not choose things any differently. I do not know how the girls I choose change their personality in no time.’
· Kapil had started a computer-training institute’s franchise with his brother-in-law. Within six months this relative wanted the business solely for himself. Given this delicate situation, Kapil’s father advised him not to protest. He has not been able to forgive his brother-in-law till date. He later joined a company at a senior position.
But in a few months time, the company stopped paying him because of a temporary cash crunch. A committed Kapil stuck on, only to realize that his seniors, despite the bad times, were enjoying parties and getting salaries. Kapil had to leave.
Do you identify yourself with any of these people or others who are not consciously aware of their emotions? If you do, you too are unconscious of your undesirable responses to charged emotions. Nor that the pattern of undesirable episodes you are encountering have been elicited by virtue of these responses.
Prabhat, unconsciously modeled after his parents, learnt to repress negative emotions till they reached saturation and he eventually exploded. Dr Sameeksha was extremely angry and worried about her only daughter who was having an affair with a boy she vehemently disliked.
But Sameeksha found it difficult to let her feelings be known for fear of unpleasantness. She was wallowing in her negative emotions and her secret desire to hit her daughter, to get some rest, to feel her own pain and to receive others’ sympathy was mirrored in the repeated injuries to her foot (feet represent moving into future).
When we tend to deny to ourselves or feel ashamed to own up to the real reasons for the feelings we are wallowing in, we force them to create real life excuses to make them appear more obvious and justified.
Draw Keertan’s attention towards the relationship problem he is going through, and he starts comparing it with that of his friend Ritish who is going through worse. Keertan’s ex-wife Sheela confirms: ‘Keertan expects more love from others than he has for himself. The slightest slip on your part may fit into his belief that you are neglecting him.’
He nurtures the deep-seated feeling that he is worthless and unlovable. Unless he recognises this misconception about himself, no woman can convince him of her love. Kapil has intense pain, resentment and anger locked within.
To disconnect himself from the unbearable pain that accompanies his feelings he has subconsciously developed numbness towards them. But nature persists untiringly by creating and re-creating the experiences that will give Kapil the opportunity to feel and let go of the pain and thereby grow spiritually.
Like these four people, most of us find it difficult to deal with negative emotions and our usual responses to them are uneducated and therefore ineffective and risky. The common ineffective responses are
(ii) wallowing in,
(iv) denying or comparing, or
Repressing emotions does not save us from pain. On the contrary, it stifles our capacity to experience positive emotions. Wallowing in emotions makes us attract external situations that confirm what we are reeling under.
Ignoring, denying or comparing them does not eliminate them, much like the fire that is not extinguished when you shut your eyes. It disconnects you from your inner dreams and your capacity to live them. Numbing forces nature to recreate the painful episodes you are running away from because these are essential for your emotional growth.
Emotional hygiene Research indicates that almost all diseases are attracted by us through our inappropriate ways of handling our negative emotions which act like magnets for diseases. With negative emotions are released harmful toxic chemicals that are stored in your body causing fatigue, pain, stress, anxiety and disease.
Each thought or feeling is accompanied by the secretion of corresponding chemicals called neuropeptides, which get stored in the site meant to represent that aspect of personality that they relate to.
For example, a feeling of not being able to do something that one cherishes may result in a corresponding neuropeptide ‘downloading’ into one’s lungs (lungs represent freedom) that may add to the progressively increasing congestion being felt there.
Nicholas Plotnikoff and Anthony Murgo in their book Stress and Immunity point out that hopelessness and helplessness have often been associated with early relapse and mortality in human cancer studies. In 1987, scientists Levy and Schain found that advanced breast cancer patients who reported joy, optimism and enthusiasm at the time of recurrence lived significantly longer than the rest.
Even Robert Kellner, professor of psychiatry at University of New Mexico, reports that there is a comparatively higher incidence of physical and psychosomatic illness in the families of psycho-neurotics. Denied cognisance by the conscious mind, emotions tend to find alternative ways to express themselves and draw our attention through diseases.
The symptoms of a disease tell us the need to attend to aspects of our being that are crying for our attention. Usually these are the aspects we are either not consciously aware of, or the ones we might have turned our backs on. Have you noticed how effective our nervous system is in saving us from burns or injuries?
It almost instantaneously sends a message to the muscles involved to retract the hand if it inadvertently touches a hot surface. Unfortunately, we are not similarly equipped against the havoc wreaked by our negative emotions.
Had our bodies been equipped in a similar manner, we could do the needful automatically. But that way the world would have lost its very purpose-failing to teach us to choose the right thought, emotion and action for us to grow spiritually.
Emotions as borderland
Through life’s events and experiences, nature keeps sending messages necessary to make us learn and evolve. Emotions are the borderland between what is happening within and without us in a 10-stage unfoldment of an intuitive message.
Stage I – Instinctual whispers: We are not trained to recognise our intuitive messages. We must pay heed while they are still whispers. After a day’s work you are leaving office and get an inexplicable feeling of uneasiness, getting more and more intense as you make your way out. You cannot bear it and decide to return to your workstation. And lo! You find your wallet with your money lying partially visible underneath a file.
Stage II – Anxiety and nervousness: As you start trusting these hunches, you obviate the necessity for them to reach the next level wherein vibrations rise from the body to the conscious mind and have a nervous quality in them.
In trying to push these vibrations to the subconscious mind, people give in to addictive behaviour like drinking, smoking, overeating, excessive television or web surfing, etc. When ignored, the message gets transformed into the next stage.
Stage III – Sensory information: One starts perceiving the vibrations of the message as visuals (”golden idea… I can see that happening very clearly”), sounds (‘this rings a bell in me… sounds interesting’), tastes (‘…the meeting left a bitter taste in me’) or touch (‘we are on a sticky wicket’).
Stage IV – Emotions: In this stage vibrations get transformed into recognisable emotions. You may feel disturbed, irritable, heavy or sad. If you feel emotionally low, run over the day’s happenings to track the possible cause of the uncomfortable emotion being felt deep within you.
Stage V – Stress/addictive behavior: Unacknowledged, the information coded in vibrations gets transformed into a headache, shoulder, wrist or lower back pain, indigestion or a more deeply entrenched addiction such as pornography or alcohol.
Stage VI – Physical pain: Ignoring these signals makes them a permanent feature of your life as you resort to all kinds of drugs.
Stage VII – Full-blown ailments: If unacknowledged, these result in a permanent disease or an emergency waiting to be diagnosed-a flu sticking to you for weeks, a cancer, a heart attack or an ulcer. If you don’t listen to the inner cries of the soul, you force nature to shout even more loudly and you enter the seventh stage.
Stage VIII – Shocking episodes: You lose your job, you meet with an accident, someone cheats you of a heavy amount or a loved one dies unexpectedly. Even so, you may still not wake up from your pernicious slumber. You may continue to ignore the messages.
Stage IX – Lose touch with life: At this stage you may invite depression, coma, paralysis, Alzheimer’s disease or a nervous breakdown to keep yourself from having to listen to these warning signals.
Stage X – Curtains: If you still get out of this situation but decide not to pay heed to the messages, Nature draws the curtains.
Understanding the roots
Spiritual: We are all seeking happiness or eternal joy without realizing that we can experience it on the other side of our cloud of emotions. Happiness and joy are not emotions; they are what you experience when you transcend emotions.
Happiness and joy do not result from success, accomplishment, material prosperity or anything external but from the awareness of indestructible oneness of all that is. They are not the same as pleasure. Pleasure depends on extraneous things and unless one is detached, pain is in-built.
Our need to be in a state of continuous pleasure and to protect ourselves from pain gets us attached to so many things: our body, people, money, fame, sensual gratification, religion, language, color, country, outcomes, and even the need to win arguments.
The negative emotions stem from these very attachments. If you are not attached or averse to any outcome, you are ready for anything. Hypothetically speaking, if such is the state, one would be devoid of any negative emotions.
Buddha had discovered that the mind undergoes four processes of consciousness: registering of sensory inputs (vinnaana), perception (sannaa), sensation (vedanaa) and reaction (sankhaara). Emotions arise at the interface of the mind and body – a reflection of the mind’s response in the body.
For example, anger may be the secretion of certain chemicals-the mind’s reaction to the perception that what is happening is contrary to expectations. In fact, what we call emotion is a combination of the last two of the four mental processes that Buddha discovered: sensation and reaction.
Most of the so-called negative emotions were primarily meant to ensure our protection. Given the perilous conditions our ancestors faced and lived in, natural selection favored only those who were extra-paranoid and hyper-vigilant.
Today our responses do not need to occur at lightning speed. Even so, our body’s biochemistry triggers the same stress response as it used to do in the bodies of our ancestors.
The paradox of not suppressing negative emotions and at the same time not venting them in the form of aggression, anger or physical assault confounds many. Just because suppressed emotions cause us diseases does not mean we cannot be healthy without being rude, uncivilized or neurotic.
It only means that we need to become aware of our negative thoughts, honestly admit them to ourselves and/or to a select few, watch them intently without getting carried away and avoid situations that give rise to these in the future, find creative solutions to dissolve the very roots of such emotions if possible, and express them in appropriate and healthy alternative ways to help transcend and release them from our body.
1. Realize that the treasure of happiness is guarded by the snakes of negative emotions. Some among us get so overwhelmed by negative emotions that we forget the treasure itself. Others get so obsessed that they spend their lives fighting them.
Only a blessed few realise that paying them attention devoid of judgements, resistance or reaction is the best way to get rid of them. Bear in mind that you live closest to your emotions-so close that you cannot experience anything directly but only as them.
Your life is not a collection of events but of the emotions you greeted these events with. If you are already in the emotional groove of anger or resentment, the emotion of pleasure of eating the tastiest food will be bypassed by the prevailing negative emotion.
A man who was driving fast found another car approaching from the other side and heard someone yelling: ‘Piglet! Piglet!’ He yelled back: ‘You son of a bitch!’
But soon he noticed a huge pig in the middle of the road and it was only with great difficulty that he managed to bring his car to a screeching halt in time. The man he abused was trying to save his life by forewarning him, but he was thinking resentfully of his boss who had recently denied him a raise.
2. Starve your ‘reaction’ muscle and grow your ‘observer’ muscle. Reactions charged with negativity come from you as a ‘real response’ to ‘unreal stimuli’. Unreal because life itself is a kind of dream.
An unreal lion chasing you in a dream will accelerate your heartbeat. That is real enough. And this symbolic lion was planted unconsciously by you, while responding really to certain other unreal stimuli during the day.
Similarly, all that provokes you to anger is unreal, planted by you through the cosmic mind that processed certain earlier responses of yours as a provoking image. Now you have a choice.
If you respond to it with anger, you are sending further inputs to the cosmic mind likely to process even worse images in your ‘life-dream’ (our life which is a big dream). However, if you respond to these stimuli with love, you are sending inputs that are likely to be processed as blissful and desirable images.
Practice the following to strengthen your ‘observer’ muscle:
· Do one thing every day that you otherwise dislike or find uncomfortable.
· Be a good listener.
· Refrain from judging and evaluating others. Accept people as they are. Doubt any preconceived notions and prejudices that make you doubt others’ intrinsic goodness.
· Watch yourself as you watch others.
3. Watch the flow of life just as you watch a movie. Leave its unfoldment in the director’s hands and watch. The bad or good in it are not bad or good-both are meant only to educate you.
4. Develop high self-esteem. People with low self-esteem are more prone to negative emotions. The two feed on one another because almost all our negative emotions show our frustration not with the world but with ourselves. External situations only facilitate opportunities to vent them.
Dr Meenakshi Saxena, Reader in Department of Psychology, IP College, New Delhi, feels that managing negative emotions becomes all the more difficult for someone with low self-esteem. To develop high self-esteem one needs to discover an aim in life and set easily achievable but progressively difficult goals to overcome roadblocks and achieve the aim.
5. Regularly practice techniques for spiritual growth. Those who lose temper at the slightest pretext and exhibit negative emotions are usually too arrogant to admit that their behavior needs improvement.
In my stress management workshops, I have often seen that people who need these techniques the most are unaware of their stress levels and deny, often arrogantly, the need to learn anything to manage them.
Dr Meenakshi feels that people with high self-esteem and those practicing any spiritual discipline such as Reiki, Vipassana, Sudarshan Kriya, Yoga Nidra, or reading inspiring literature, find it much easier to manage their negative emotions than others.
6. Take responsibility for everything in your life. Whenever angry over your circumstances, accept that knowingly or unknowingly, it was you who created them and ask yourself: ‘What positive lesson can I learn from them to develop a meaningful attitude?’
Vikas Malkani, a spiritual teacher, says that one should always remember that everyone goes through tough times and one is not being singled out.
7. Share lessons. Do not teach them. Leave the job of teaching to God. Your responses constitute the quality of your life. Your temptations are your thoughts and you can change them. Getting even with someone was your thought.
One you can change. This may be your last chance on this planet; leave no person untouched by your love before you depart. Surprisingly, such an attitude is only a decision away-if you do not get tempted to use others’ behavior as an excuse not to.
8. Make loving service of others the only goal of your life. ‘Sorrow is the shadow of desires,’ said Lord Mahavira. A corollary of this great truth is: ‘Any negative emotion is the shadow of our expectations.’ The best way to overcome negative emotions, therefore, is to reduce your expectations.
And to conquer your expectations, shift your focus from ‘achieving’ to ‘giving’. To do this, make ‘loving service’ the only goal of your life. And the best way to do so is to recognize the futility of living in any other way. In life, everything is bound to be taken back from us one by one, but when we give it willingly, we do not experience sorrow in doing so.
9. Keep a journal. Whatever you start recording, you become aware of. Whatever you become aware of, you start feeling. Whatever you start feeling, you can begin healing. Spare 10 minutes just before or after dinner to take a few deep breaths.
Take stock of the feelings you have had during the day about the people you encountered. Pay attention to the beginnings of any negative feeling. Whom did you ignore and why? Whom did you feel like bashing up? Just jot down the key words or phrases.
Think of the times when you should have reacted but did not or you should not have but did. Did you act indifferently where you should not have? Give yourself scores on a ten-point scale: from bad to brilliant.
On weekends, take stock. Go through the notes and scores. Reflect on your performance. If yours is a sincere journal, it tells you what you are becoming.
10. Remind yourself of the divine oneness you share with others. Whenever you meet, see or hear someone, imagine him/her to be connected to you in some subtle way and send your love to that person. Someone established in oneness cannot be angry with anybody-because that shall amount to being angry with one’s self.
11. Try sending love and affection instead of anger. Simply ignore the behavior of a difficult person. Instead, in your mind, imagine yourself sending love and affection to him. Do it for 10 minutes every day and gradually make it a routine. By choosing love over hatred, you will soon train your brain to run on an altogether different circuitry of love, bliss, harmony and fulfillment.
12. Develop mindfulness-moment-to-moment awareness of your emotions. Most of our emotions go unnoticed till they pierce our self-imposed insulation. This inattentiveness requires them to speak louder and louder till they finally manifest themselves either as a disease or a distressing event. At any moment we can either watch the prevailing emotion or become it-not both.
1. Understand the positive intent in your negative emotions. We have already understood that these emotions are meant to serve a positive purpose-to draw our attention towards the unacceptable and call for appropriate action. One should learn to express these constructively to that effect.
If labeled negative, they might not come to you for being released. Well-known psychiatrist Dr Sudhir Kakar says that no emotion is negative; biologically every emotion is adaptive and spiritually, at least in certain Tibetan-Buddhist traditions, every emotion can lead to development.
2. Choose words carefully while talking (even to yourself). There is a difference between ‘I am feeling cheated’ and ‘My situation is hopeless’.
3. Try back-pedalling to let actions stem from your core self instead of your conditioned reactions. We create negative emotions because we do not want to accept the responsibility for anything unpleasant, and being good at projecting things we tend to locate their source outside ourselves.
Negative emotions, in fact, are the way some people have learnt to process and respond to external happenings. Health or diseases don’t come by chance. They are created through our responses in the form of actions which could either be in harmony with our essence or simply be subconscious reactions that stem from our disintegrated conditioned self.
We react from our conditioned self instead of acting from our core self because the latter demands an awareness of the present moment that our minds are untrained for. Actions that come from the wisdom of our core self appear to be untried and seemingly irrational which may have unforeseen outcomes.
This way our connection with the core gradually withers till it is eventually severed. However, when we choose to live a life of conscious but choiceless actions, we begin to live instead of merely existing. It is imperative to maintain our balance during emotional upheavals through back-pedalling so as to
· Let yourself watch the negative reactions and emotions arising within you without being pedaled forward
· Gain time to allow for a more balanced, appropriate and rational response to stem from our core self.
4. Ride negative emotions like riding a bike. The warning is therefore clear: get back to the core self. As we wriggle back to the other side to retain balance, we do not stop at the center but move further on to the other side-experiencing a different kind of emotion this time.
Anticipating the threat of losing balance and falling off, we need to move back towards the center. In this process of wiggling back and forth between pairs of emotions we find and maintain our balance.
Negative emotions are embedded within us in a paired hexagon loop with these sides: AS-FG-FD-WE-JH-IA. The first side is AS or Anger-Sadness. Anger and sadness are two sides of the same coin. Anger over what happened and sadness for what you wanted but did not happen.
Similarly, Fear and Guilt means that when we are feeling sad we shift our attention to an inner fear of what might happen. As one gets better at riding one’s negative emotions, balancing the emotional bike becomes practically effortless. What is required is to stay in touch with all your emotions.
To transmute your emotions, remember a 5-step methodology. You might feel better with the first step itself and at least much before you complete all the five steps. So, it is not at all necessary to go through all of them every time. Feel free to do all five if you feel like it.
In order to remember it, take a pen and write the key letters (RET-WP) on the tips of your left hand fingers starting with ‘R’ on your thumb, to remind you of these five steps.
Let me illustrate how to transmute one of the emotions, say that of anger.
Step 1: ‘R’-Look for ‘Apparent Reasons’
To dissipate the first pole of the pair, e.g., anger, take some time to feel the emotion of anger within you, explaining to yourself what you are angry about (apparent reason). Also ask: ‘What else may be making me angry?’ This will bring you face to face with what lies at the root of your present anger-possibly a whole lot of other things. This realization will give you a perspective of things and will shift your focus to possibilities of change.
Step 2: ‘E’-Look for the ‘Next Emotion’ in the loop
Ask what are you feeling sad about? (next emotion). As you reply to this, you will find that this will make you begin to hedge to the other side and as a result facilitate dissipation of anger. However, if you feel gathering sadness as a result of it, switch over to the next emotion in the loop (i.e. fear) and tackle it with this standard procedure (from Step 1 to 5). Go on this way till you move three further emotions down the ladder and regain peace and balance.
Step 3: ‘T’-Find context for your present emotions in ‘Other Times’. Ask yourself, can I remember any similar past episodes when I was angry the way I am now?
Often we cannot relate to the emotions that we are feeling for want of a link with the present situation. These are usually our unresolved emotions visiting us from our past. If we do not release these emotions by linking these to the past, they have the capacity to create corresponding conditions in the present.
Imagine the episode if you cannot remember it. Pretend that you can do a quick rewind and now mentally relive that episode vividly once again. Consider its outcome by questioning the relevance of your anger after an hour, after a day, a week, a month or a year later.
Reviewing our past tells us that whatever appeared to be extremely threatening at one point of time, did not prove to be so later, and whatever was really bad got better with time. We somehow resolved the problems and came through it.
Having done this, imagine writing a letter to the one who irked you, expressing how you are feeling in terms of the particular emotion and the other three emotions down the loop. Now imagine receiving an affectionate response letter from the one you wrote to.
To make it real and in order to read it to your complete satisfaction, write it yourself using phrases such as, ‘I apologize…’, ‘I appreciate…’, ‘I am sorry I hurt you…’, ‘I promise…’, ‘I realize my mistake…’, ‘You deserve…’, etc. Imagine getting through this letter all the love, care and affection that you expected and needed at that time but did not come.
Step 4: ‘W’-Imagine the ‘Worst Possible’.
Sometimes it helps to ask yourself, What is the worst that can happen? Use your imagination and see your problem worsening till your worst fears come true.
This shall provide a context for the current negative emotion that you may find difficult to identify in the present circumstances. Spend some time linking them to your past as in Step 3. Then ask yourself what you are sad about and switch over to the other pole of the emotion as in Step 2.
Step 5: ‘P’-Mentally empathize with ‘Other People’ displaying this emotion (anger in this case).
You must have noticed that when you feel pained or sad, it may help to release the emotion simply by asking a different question: Who else do you find in similar sadness or pain? Poignant scenes in a movie, book, etc., often bring us to tears as they provide us with the context for releasing our suppressed emotions. Similarly, shifting our focus to others’ pain hidden underneath their anger may put us in touch with ours for its eventual release.
5. Seek to understand others before you seek to be understood. Doing otherwise, though tempting, is precisely what may make understanding difficult. Understanding demands patient and attentive listening and empathizing-seeing things from the other person’s point of view.
When you take the lead in trying to understand the other person, you create an environment of trust and security, since this obviates the necessity for others to over-defend their point of view.
6. Never forget that people, including yourself, are not just their work, opinion or behavior. Most of us cannot dissociate ourselves from our opinions, behavior, work and performance because unaware of our hidden real self, we start identifying with these superficial things. This is one reason that if we cannot criticize a person’s behavior or work without hurting his/her ego, we should refrain from it till we learn the art of doing so.
Follow a three-step process. First praise or appreciate him for what he deserves. Then provide negative feedback saying that it does not match what he or she is deep down-the aim is to dissociate him from his acts. Lastly, having brought this to his notice, show your confidence by expressing that you are sure he is never going to repeat that particular behavior.
7. Shovel out all your worries, anger and any other negative emotions. Imagine and move your hands as if you are using shovels to clean a jammed sewer. And while you take out the filth mentally or verbally, say: &lsquo
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