The Negative Emotion Typology: Disarm Negativity By Defining It

Ian Stauffer on Unsplash
5 min read.

We’ve all felt some type of negative emotion at one point in our lives, but the question is, how is that affecting your life? Does it get in the way of doing your best work, being productive, developing a deeper connection with someone?

Because it’s definitely affecting mine!

I’ve been terrible with my emotions. My emotional intelligence was nonexistent. I was a shy kid who couldn’t trust his intuition and struggled with expressing myself comfortably.

I’ve internalized all of my negative emotions over the years and it has collected into a tangled mess in my mind. It stopped me from trying new things or following my passions. I became boringly risk-averse and developed a needy attachment to money. And I struggled to connect intimately with women (and men) and to put myself out there with new people.

“Fear keeps you from seeing beauty.”

Will Smith

There’s so much of the human experience to explore, things to do, places to see, people we could learn from. Why do we let our emotions take that away from us?

So is there something we can do about it? Can we learn how to be better with our emotions?

We might be able to, with something one of my good friends showed me recently, the Negative Emotion Typology.

How to Define Our Emotions

Developed by the Delft Institute of Positive Design, the Negative Emotion Typology defines a number of human emotions and the typical scenarios for when we would feel each one.

The idea is to use this tool to pinpoint what you’re actually feeling, gain insight on why you are feeling that way, then start to come up with steps to do something about it.

For the past year, I’ve been struggling with so many different feelings. Everything from not being fulfilled by my job, to risking it all and becoming an online entrepreneur and content creator, to contemplating my purpose in life, to finding what truly excites me, all outside my comfort zone.

At first, I thought my stagnation and fear was anxiety, but as I read its definition, I realized that I’m not in any real life-threatening situation. There may be some uncertainty in my future, but there’s nothing I have to be physically on-guard for.

So I scrolled to the bottom of the anxiety page and compared it with insecurity.

“In the case of anxiety, the threat is existential: threatening the physical and mental wellbeing of a person. For insecurity, the threat is social: not measuring up in the eyes of others and ultimately, being accepted.”

That was it! Going into a totally different life on my own is scary not because of some external threat but because I was too worried about what my friends, family, and the public will think of me. Will this actually work? What if I fail and embarrass myself? What if I can’t recover from such a drastic change?

But now knowing that the root cause was just my own insecurity, I was able to discredit that feeling by observing how irrational it all was. Why stress myself out by asking all of these what if’s? Who says I won’t be able to recover or adapt? Why am I not allowing myself to celebrate the resiliency I have developed over the years? And why does it matter how people will judge me if it’s something I care about and want to do?

But more importantly, why would I give away so much of my power to anyone else by letting them control my mind, thoughts, and feelings?

That’s one thing I’ve learned on this journey so far. That although we don’t have complete control with what we’re feeling, we do have control over how we respond to them. The fear, anxiety, insecurity, whatever it may be, doesn’t have to define us or dictate our actions.

What Are Emotions Anyway?

You might be thinking, But emotions are just a part of us, they’re innate to human nature.

That used to be the common knowledge, for sure. But more research has been done that is proving otherwise.

For the past 25 years, psychology professor Lisa Feldman Barrett has studied emotions in the human brain. She shared her findings on a TED talk that tells us our emotions are not as instinctive as we think.

Barrett says that our brains are only making its “best guess” for how it should interpret the situation in front of us. It uses past experiences to try to give the current thing context for you to appropriately respond.

Think about how two people can have a different reaction to say, a dramatic movie scene. One can resonate with it, cry with it, feel a wide range of emotions because of the memories or experiences they had, while the other can be completely unphased because it’s not as applicable to their lives.

Plus, people from different parts of the world will have a different meaning for each of their emotions. In the West, we think of happiness as excitement, joy, and high-energy, whereas a lot of countries in the East associate happiness to a calm and relaxed state. The West is a lot more expressive and it’s customary to smile, but in places like Japan, India, or Russia, smiling too much can be seen as unintelligent.

How we interpret feelings and emotions are all subjective within our own minds. It might be a hard pill to swallow at first because it means you are actually responsible for a lot of what happens. But it’s also empowering because it means you have the ability to find solutions and do something about it.

We don’t have to feel stuck feeling bad, or short-tempered, or highly-sensitive to negative emotions all the time. I know, sometimes it’s just easier. But how much does that serve you and your future?

OK cool, so why don’t we just think more positive thoughts and call it a day then?

Well, it’s a little more complicated than that.

Emotions Are Not Easy to Deal With

I’m not saying that we could just think happy thoughts and we’ll forever be successful, joyful, and fulfilled. But believing in and getting stuck with the negative emotions will definitely not help us get there.

Sitting in that anger, or anxiety, or stress, or fear for too long is only going to lead to more of the same. Those emotions stagnate and close us off to opportunities. They are great signals for what may happen, maybe even positive change, but dwelling in them only wastes our most precious resource, time.

I know it’s not that easy to just shrug things off, or simply remove yourself from the negative emotions. But doing the first step in defining the specific feeling you’re experiencing will get you closer to feeling better.

Having that self-awareness is a critical trait for building that emotional resilience you need to be more productive, create deeper connections, and live more passionately.

Embrace the Low to Reach New Highs

What do you do when you want to jump higher? First, you have to lower yourself into a crouch to create the potential energy to jump.

I tried to stay positive all the time, so I ignored my negative emotions and claimed that they weren’t real, that they weren’t me. The people around me and in society reinforced that for me. Out of good intentions, they were trying to make me feel better by denying my negative emotions.

They would tell me, “it’s all good,” “no, you’re so smart,” “dude, you’re amazing.” And I wanted to believe them, so I ended up not embracing the negative emotions and instead maintained myself at a horizontal baseline with no variation.

They would also tell me to just “get over it,” “man up,” “don’t be so sensitive.” So I did, I kept them locked up. And every time I put one into a cage, it grew angrier, fiercer. But then every once in a while, it would escape and come back stronger, bringing a bunch of its friends along with it.

Instead of fearing the gremlins in our minds, why don’t we let them roam free? It doesn’t mean let them have total reign, but they’re also living creatures and they just want to be. It’s like facing any real-life animal that can sense your fear. The more you resist or fight it, the harder they combat.

It will be scary at first, going into the deep basement of your mind, but the basis of all fear is uncertainty and if you accept that, there’s nowhere else to go but up.

The most exciting life stories have both ups and downs. You need to tell both. You can’t jump higher from a standing position.


Want to Break Free From Limiting Beliefs?

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