© CFA. 1994-2009. All
rights reserved. Updated October 1, 2009
Copyright Center for Awareness, Inc.
Chapter 10: Negative Emotions and How to Heal Them
All negative emotions have a basis in either direct life experiences or perceptions we have internalized from others in our formative years. In the musical South Pacific, there is a song about how we must be carefully taught how to hate. We aren't born feeling hate, but some people are born into hating families. Since the two primary emotions are fear and love, all negative feelings are based on fear. Out of this fear we can experience hate, lust, anger, jealousy, greed, guilt, and sadness. Negative emotions can also arise out of resistance to feelings. They are the result of being unwilling to let ourselves be aware of certain emotions that are trying to surface.
Prime Negative Operating Law
Some of our deepest and most influential values and beliefs, the ones that practically run our lives, are so buried they may never surface. In fact, for most people, there is one or perhaps two prime negative operating laws that underlie everything we think, say, and do. The source of these is the feelings we experience as a result of the Five Biggies.
Sometimes our prime negative operating law (or thought) is planted while we are still in our mother's womb. If our mother is fearful or afraid about the pregnancy, is angry she is pregnant, or is not happy with the father, we marinate in that fear for nine months. While in the womb, we eat what mom eats, we feel what she feels, and we think what she thinks. We don't know we are separate individuals from her.
It is not unusual for us to work with clients who have been loyally acting out their mother's feelings and beliefs, rather than creating their own. Once a person realizes they can choose differently from their mother- and it's really okay- they change their entire outlook. Similarly, the father's attitudes have an impact; acknowledging the differences frees us from unconsciously acting out either parent's behavior.
Anger is one of the most difficult emotions to handle and one of the easiest to experience. Typical reactions to anger are to deny and suppress it, or act it out, often in ways destructive to self and/or others. These reactions only aggravate the problem because they delay the time when we actually resolve the tension. Suppression and acting out also result in decreased creativity and sexual expression. The energy behind anger, i.e., passion, is the same power that drives our creativity and sexuality. Anger is a way to express feelings, especially common when it seems too dangerous to be open and loving.
Resolving anger requires understanding its source: frustrated passion. When it isn't safe to express and experience intimacy, the results are frustration, boredom, depression, and/or anger. When we don't allow ourselves to be passionately involved in other forms of creativity- acting, writing, service, sports, etc.- frustration and anger are the result. Consciously or not, most of us want intimacy- to be loved, understood, and accepted for being ourselves. Lack of this closeness leads to frustration and a feeling that something is missing in life.
Anger also results from feeling powerless to change something about our lives we've judged as inappropriate. We feel like victims of circumstances beyond our control. This denies our ability to choose our life experiences and denies our inherent divinity. Being powerful requires taking responsibility for the present situations and people around us. Once we stop blaming others, we are no longer a victim and can choose what we want out of life.
Feeling we are a victim of our parents denies our freedom and right in choosing to come through those people. Being angry with our romantic partners for their behavior denies our ability to either accept them and enjoy who they are, or let go of the relationship. Admittedly, it can be difficult to end a relationship where there is an emotional investment.
If we are not victims, and we are still angry, then the anger really is at self. Ultimately, self is the object of all anger, because no one can do anything to us without our conscious or unconscious agreement.
At this stage of awareness, inner work is required to resolve the tension. Anger can cover feelings of sadness and disappointment. This sadness is with self: we feel sad about making bad choices and getting bad results.
Anger is seductive in that it's very easy to be upset at things outside ourselves, and the anger is then used to cover deeper feelings of pain. It can also create a false sense of power and motivation to make something happen. This prevents us from feeling our own pain. Anger appears to be easier to feel in our bodies than the pain of sadness or disappointment. A common thought is, "If only they would change, then I could feel good." If they are bad, we look good compared to them.
Anger is easy to project, or put on someone else, even when we're really mad at ourselves, and is often used to cover the pain of sadness and grief. We experience the pain of sadness directly.
Since The Course in Miracles states that anger is never justified, and we are never angry for the reasons we think, how do we release anger?
Willingness to feel the pain is the beginning of resolution. Sometimes it means feeling our hearts break. Once this surrender to the inner pain is accomplished, forgiveness of self, which may be rather anti-climactic after the intensity of the sadness, happens almost automatically. Forgiveness is when our past "mistakes" are now viewed and felt as valuable learning lessons rather than more reasons to believe we are unworthy. When we change our perceptions of self-worth, we find fewer reasons to be angry.
Forgiveness (acceptance that we participated in making something happen) marks the shift point, and when it happens, we are more conscious of the process to resolve anger the next time we start getting upset. Shifting anger doesn't always require sadness or heart-break, though it does require a willingness to feel pain, if that's what it takes. A nice benefit of this process is that it gets safer to be passionately involved in life rather passionately upset about it.
Forgiveness also stops the feeding the anger, or the feeling of it. What started out as a small irritation can be blown up into a rage by not handling the issues at the point of origin.
Notice that the resolution process described here does not involve the acting-out of anger. There are some techniques that use acting-out to facilitate completion. These can be beneficial, especially for people who have never felt safe or free enough to express themselves. Experience indicates that acting-out is an interim step, since it focuses on the anger, and that surrender to the sadness and disappointment beneath the anger is the quickest way to fully resolve the tension and upset at the source.
Romantic involvements require we risk heart break. If we are unwilling to take this risk, then we are not open and there is no possibility of intimacy. If we shut down to any feeling, we shut down to all feeling- positive and negative- to the same degree. We cannot know the outcome of a situation until we enter the experience. Not being open and willing to risk means we assume we aren't going to get what we want, so there is no need in being open to it. If we are open and willing to risk all feelings, then it means we at least have the possibility of a positive outcome. We also increase the likelihood of getting what we want, when we want it.
The experience of anger reflects an unwillingness to risk. Passionate people need to take risks to be complete as humans. Without taking creative risks, we get bored and start taking destructive risks, simply as a way to express this intensity of feeling.
The positive aspect of anger is that it means we care deeply about our lives. It shows a depth of feeling about life that can be turned into positive caring once we master the process of opening to our deepest feelings.
Sadness and Grief
Sadness and grief are a longing for something we have lost or a longing for something that looks impossible. It is a feeling we are powerless to change limiting circumstances. These feelings are also a result of feeling like a victim. It also implies an attachment to someone or something. Attachment is not love, though they are sometimes confused for one another.
We feel sad about losing a family member, because they moved away or even died. The sadness is not an expression of how much we loved them, but how attached we were to their physical presence. The love will never change or die, but our feelings of attachment will if we let go. Sadness will diminish to the extent we are willing to release our attachment.
Depression, Boredom, and Frustration
Boredom is the feeling that nothing has any appeal, and that there is no excitement about what is in our lives. There is a feeling of listlessness. Usually this is a result of "sitting" on some particular feeling that is trying to surface. For most of us, suppression of feelings happens when there is some fear associated with them. The emotions that don't have a fear connotation are much easier to consciously experience. It is interesting to notice that there is often as much, or more, fear associated with success as there is with failure, and that boredom may be a suppression of success.
Frustration is related to boredom, but is an angry response to our own resistance. The impulse is to try to do something to make the blocked feeling go away. The problem is that it doesn't matter what we do. Until we stop and let the suppressed feeling come up, we will only continue exerting effort that does not seem to create any positive results.
Depression is very closely related to frustration. The difference is that instead of expressing anger outwardly, as in frustration, depression is anger turned inward. It is also a result of not being able to forgive ourselves as the source of the anger.
Guilt can be defined as believing we are wrong, or have done something wrong, and punishing ourselves first, before anyone else can. Probably the primary negative motive influencing our existence on earth is that of guilt. More difficult to handle than anger, this feeling is usually more unconscious.
Sometimes our parents withdraw love when they don't like our actions as a way to teach proper behavior. We may, individually, as a person, feel guilt, anger, or disappointment and feel we don't deserve love, rather than understanding that we only acted inappropriately. It has been scientifically proven that positive motivation is a more successful way to create lasting change. When someone has a positive reason to change, then they willingly change. It is possible to be forced, but that just generates resentment. Most people who are forced will get even by sabotaging themselves or others.
The source of guilt is thinking we are separate from God, and therefore, God has withdrawn His/Her love from us. We may have done something wrong and now believe that God is angry with us. Traditional Judeo-Christian teachings have interpreted God as a vindictive being who often arbitrarily metes out punishment, or death, to unsuspecting humans.
This version of God makes it more difficult to forgive ourselves, as it seems He/She has already judged and condemned us to some punishment. When God is seen as unconditionally loving of all humans, the grace and innocence we all seek is available as we give up our guilt and forgive ourselves.
Healing Negative Emotions
Negative emotions are a result of blocking love, each in their own way, and each reflecting a particular fear. It is said there are only the two emotions of love and fear, but it is sometimes confusing when we feel three different variations of fear in one situation. The following chart can help unravel this uncertainty.
Emotion; Source; Resolution; Affirmation
Anger, Rage, or Resentment
Source: Frustrated passion (holding back from having strong feelings about something or someone), believing self to be a victim of circumstances beyond one's control
Resolution: Willingness to take risks without knowing the outcome. Allowing oneself to be passionately in love, or intensely involved in work; acceptance; forgiveness of self, other, or the situation
Affirmation: I accept myself (and life) exactly the way it is. Money and love come to me easily and effortlessly.
Jealousy, Lust, or Greed
Source: Desire for something someone else has that we are not willing to give ourselves
Resolution: Willingness to risk, and ask for what we really want
Affirmation: I deserve love (or money, etc.). I am now receiving love (money, etc.)
Fear (Being Afraid)
Source: Suppressed anger, thinking it's not okay to be angry because someone might get hurt, usually self
Resolution: Standing up for our rights, being willing to say "no" to conditions or situations that do not suit, "yes" to those that do
Affirmation: I am safe as long as I'm breathing, no matter how it feels. Life (God) supports me, and I am safe.
Source: Thinking self has done something wrong, and wanting to punish self before anyone else can
Resolution: Awareness, acceptance, and forgiveness (The Three Step Process). Give up self-judgment and self-anger
Affirmation: I am innocent, and everything I do, I do with love.
Sadness, or Grief
Source: Anger at loss or wanting something that is (or looks) impossible to have
Resolution: Give up the attachment or expectation. Quit thinking a past event will turn out a different way
Affirmation: I always get what I need and want, and more, even when it doesn't look like that.
Apathy, Boredom, Frustration, or Depression
Source: Give up expecting life (and self) to be more than it is. Admit the sadness and anger from being disappointed
Resolution: Anger turned inward, unwillingness to allow feelings to surface and clear out of the body
Affirmation: I love myself exactly the way I am.