Experiencing negative emotions is not fun. Most people do not typically enjoy them and make great efforts to avoid them. However, negative emotions give us invaluable information that helps us to guide our lives. In this 4-part series, we are reviewing the value of negative emotions as discussed by the research psychologist David H. Barlow, and his colleagues, in their book the Unified Protocol for Transdiagnostic Treatment of Emotional Disorders: Workbook.
Previously, we have discussed Barlow and his colleague’s explanation of the purpose of select emotions.
Fear is our body’s alarm system that motivates us to take action to keep ourselves safe.
Sadness informs us about important losses and helps us to reflect on our lives.
Anxiety motivates us to prepare for possible dangers in the future and helps us to succeed.
Anger is a sign that our personal standards have been violated. It motivates us to advocate for ourselves.
Guilt lets us know that we failed to live up to a standard set by society. It motivates us to right a wrong.
Shame lets us know that we did not meet our personal standards and we feel less valuable as a person. It can motivate us to pause to reflect on how to best bring about personal growth.
As Barlow and his colleagues demonstrated, negative emotions play a vital role in maintaining a healthy and meaningful life. Yet, at times they still seem to be unhelpful. If negative emotions are healthy, why can they sometimes lead to conditions such as overwhelming performance anxiety? The answer to that question is in how we respond to these acersive emotions. When we ignore the valuable lessons from our negative emotions or attempt to avoid these uncomfortable experiences, we trade short-term benefits for long-term negative consequences. For example, if anxiety about an important presentation leads us to call in sick to work, we feel relieved in the short-term. However, in the long-term we miss out on opportunities, often, only to delay the inevitable. Often times, our attempts to alleviate anxiety by avoiding it, lead to greater and greater levels of anxiety in the future. On the other hand, if we allow our anxiety to motivate us to prepare for the presentation, and we allow ourselves to experience anxiety in the short-term, we experience long-term relief.
If you are interested in learning more about the value of negative emotions please contact us for a free phone consultation.
Author Dr. Jason von Stietz specializes in Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Sport/Performance Psychology in Torrance, CA.