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It’s Important to Accept and Validate Negative Emotions

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It can be hard for anyone to display any emotions, but it is always harder for people to display the emotions that are perceived as negative emotions: anger, upset, hate, and sadness. This list is non-exhaustive there are many more perceived negative emotions that could be added to the list. 

It is quite common to display shame along with any of such emotions. We display a moment of anger and immediately feel shameful, and a need to apologise. On the other hand, we display happiness and gratitude we don’t feel ashamed and a need to apologise, so why do we when its anger, sadness etc. 

This can come from childhood, and how we were allowed to display our feelings. For example, when a child cries it has been common to say stop crying, what you crying for, come on cheer up. This is not teaching the child to explore the “negative feeling“, but instead squash it down, and put on a more “positive emotion”. This can be the start of someone feeling ashamed of the sadness, crying etc, and that they should be happy or positive instead. It is important when someone is displaying sadness, anger, etc to allow them the space to do so, and explore the feeling and accept them still and it is ok to be sad, angry etc. It would also be important to understand what made the emotion come to be displayed, is there something else which has upset them, or something which has made them angry. 

Everyone is different and this includes what we react to emotionally, we may not agree with why the other person is upset or angry, but the reason means something to them and it is important to make the person feel validated for this feeling, external validation is showing the person their feeling and emotion is worthy, and they are validated in feeling it. There is no reason to feel ashamed when we feel angry or sad. They are emotions just like happiness and joy, we should not therefore feel berated if something has annoyed us and we want to let off steam, and be angry.

Too often, people will feel ashamed when they can feel anger building, and hold it back down, but this only like shaking a bottle of pop, and never opening the lid, and keep shaking it, and then when the lid is opened its all the built up energy that comes out, and this is the same as someone holding in anger, and not exploring the feelings when each little moment of anger arises. This will then support the shame cycle, normally the “big blow out” is over something minor or mediocre, that wouldn’t normally justify the response that was displayed. To avoid these scenarios people need to feel non-judged and validated for their feelings when little moments of anger arise. Explaining that something has annoyed them and if there is compromise or change in future to avoid this annoyance, and allowing the person time to overcome the anger, and allow it to take its natural route. 

I do feel that it’s never too late to turn around the shame with the so called negative emotions, giving anyone the time to accept their emotions and ensuring they feel validated for their feelings and not judged for feeling how they do. Encouraging someone to talk about how they feel is great step forward, and maybe saying how you feel, and explain your feelings to give an example, this can help with children too. If a child hears their parent or adults saying they are sad because of so and so, and seeing that it’s ok to feel that way, the child can emulate this behaviour and realise it’s ok to let others know they feel sad as well as when they are happy.

Dale Burden is a mental health advocate. He holds a dual honours degree in psychology and neuroscience from Keele University.

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