Who doesn't know this?
You think you're thriving, you're doing well in your job, with your family and friends, and in your relationship, and suddenly it hits you. Something external (even small) happens, and you aren't the master of your thoughts anymore. You are in a negative emotional state.
You have feelings related to anger, shame, or sadness, and even if you have done a lot of work on yourself, you can't seem to understand where it comes from.
You wonder why since you thought you were almost done with this kind of experience, and can't seem to find a rational or helpful answer to this.
First, let's explore what lies beyond a negative emotional state
In order to explain why you feel awful sometimes and don't even know why, you first need to understand not only how emotions and feelings work, but how they also are two different pair of shoes.
In a nutshell, emotions are a physiological response while feelings are a mental response.
Emotions are a phenomenon that arises from the body and are unconscious. Most of the time they arise because of programs you've embodied as a child, and also because of the instinctive part of yourself.
For example, if you see a truck driving at a fast pace at you, you're going to be scared. In this case, the amygdala (or amygdalae) takes over and you'll have a fight or flight response. If you’re in this kind of situation, you can’t take a while to reflect on what you’re going to do. Your prefrontal cortex, responsible for rational thinking and logic, is just not going to work properly if you're petrified.
The thing is, that the amygdalae can be triggered, even when there's absolutely no danger in sight. A classic example of this could be to be frightened to speak in public. Now the part of you who doesn't want to put you in front of a public is the part that protected your ancestors thousands of years ago when being rejected by a group was, in fact, a matter of life and death.
When a phenomenon arises in the body and brain, it's pretty hard to just talk yourself out of it.
This is why people with post-traumatic disorder, for example, can't be helped just with "classic therapy" (talking). Because it's not a psychological but a neurological problem. In other words, the trauma is hard-wired in the brain.
Feelings on the other side, are a thought process. As I understand it, it's more about the interpretation you make out of your emotions. Whether consciously or unconsciously.
Well, how can a thought process be unconscious?
It sounds like a contradiction, but it isn't. It means that you have taken the habit of thinking the same thoughts when certain emotion arises. And this is not instinctive, but trained. Meaning you weren't born with those thinking patterns.
Let's take the example of anger and say someone says something that really triggers you.
On the surface, this is what you'll notice:
The person says something nasty to you. Your heart bit starts to accelerate, your limbs start shacking, your cheeks become hot, your face turns red and you have the feeling your head is going to explode. You feel the anger and start to think: "What on earth is your fucking problem?"
Let's say, you didn't say anything but walked away and thought all day long thoughts like "Why is this always happening to me?", "Why do I have to encounter that kind of people all the time?", "I should have said this or that!", "What have I done wrong?".
Yadi Yada. You get the point.
And that's absolutely understandable.
But have you noticed something?
Your thoughts are creating your feelings
Until it becomes a habit and moves to the unconscious level.
So, let's pull the layers one by one in this example.
Someone says something that you "interpret" as nasty. Of course, if someone told you you're an asshole, this is pretty universal that almost everybody here would be upset. BUT, also here, there is room for interpretation.
If you want to know what I mean by that, here is an article where I dive deeper into the topic of disrespect. But the short version is, that disrespect arises when your values are questioned (the values of the other person contradict yours). Besides, it has nothing to do with you, but everything to do with the other person and how you perceive "the disrespect."
When a person tells you something (even that you're an asshole), it says something about her first, even if you were an asshole. And the other way around, in order to exist, an offence has to be taken.
In other words: The emotion is real, but you decide consciously or unconsciously if you're going to be upset about it or not.
If you've had experienced much disrespect (or even violence) as a kid, you have hard-wired brain pattern, where it pretty much goes like this:
1- Someone says something nasty
2- The emotion arises (mostly fear)
3- You have unconscious negative thinking patterns (that were conscious but not comprehensible as a kid) around this and start to feel angry - Feeling angry is a way to protect yourself from feeling disempowered (scared).
4- You interpret it with negative explanations on top of it.
Does that make sense?
Here is how you get out of the negative emotional state fast
As I suggested on top of this article it also depends a little on how deep this is rooted in you. Meaning, how long similar situations have been going on, and how often you've experienced it.
But, basically, know that it is possible.
When you are in such a situation, thinking about therapy, coaching, changing your life, and so on, isn't going to do much for you. Especially if you're not trained in recognizing your patterns.
But there are actions you can take that are simple common sense and also a few NLP-techniques you can use to get out of this state:
1. Allow the feeling to come out of your body
This is huge! I know that there's a trend right now that says that it has to be all rainbows and unicorns and that if you are angry or sad or whatever something is wrong with you, but I disagree. You have to let it out. Believe me, I'm a master at suppressing stuff, and trying to talk me out of negative feelings and showing comprehension for everybody else but myself, but sometimes it just needs to be expressed.
Yes, you're allowed to be sad and angry. Whether your judgment is accurate at the moment or not, isn't what matters. What matters is that you express it first.
But be cautious here: You express it in a protected environment. Screaming at your partner, colleagues, kids, and pets isn't what I'm advising. Because it has consequences for them.
What I'm advising is that you find a protected place where you can do it alone:
Go into the forest and scream at a tree (poor trees), scream in a pillow, go to the bathroom and shake your body with powerful breathing exercises, or if you can, scream in your handbag (don't know if it works, just came up with the idea), put on some really loud music on and start screaming (depending on your neighborhood) but...
DON'T LET IT GET STUCK IN YOUR BODY!!!
Same with sadness. You find a way to express it privately. I'm thinking of parents here because it can really traumatize a child to see parents in this state for too long.
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2. Redirect your attention somewhere else instead of dwelling into that overwhelming crappy negative emotional state:
Go for a run, watch funny cats and dogs video on the internet, play with your pets, call a friend and tell her about it, go out in the garden and start cutting the low, start dancing, drawing, writing, singing. There is no limit!
What feels good is good!
3. If it's already in the body, you can use NLP techniques (or techniques derived from it) to get it out
NLP stands for Neurolinguistic Programming and as the name says it already, it deals with the neurological and linguistic part of yourself and has the power (done well by well-intentioned coaches or practitioners) to set you free from pretty much everything because it can attain your subconscious (like hypnosis).
But first, let's start with a simple example:
When I start to be in a negative emotional state - having negative thoughts about myself or the past - I hear the sound of a hip hop air horn in my head. In 99% of the case it works.
It's simple to understand but needs a little practice to be put in place. It requires first, that you are conscious of the stream of thoughts going through your head, in other words, that you practice "awareness".
Another way to get out of a crappy state is to use an NLP technique called "chained anchoring."
In a nutshell, it's about anchoring good emotional states to neutralize the negative emotional state you want to get rid of.
You choose different positive memories that put you in a good emotional state and choose the order in which you want to remember them. Ideally, you start with the weakest positive memory (an experience where you kind of felt good) to end with the strongest one (for ex: an experience where you laugh out loud).
Once you've chosen which positive memories you're going to use, you "anchor" each of them on a part of your body - usually the knuckles.
You put pressure with your finger on one knuckle and remember the positive state and let go just after you've reached a peak and before the feeling starts to decrease.
You repeat this with three or four more positive memories. And then you choose to concentrate on your negative emotional state which is related to specific thoughts.
Important to know is that you have to break the state after every anchoring.
Once you've done that you press another knuckle (very important!) and start the same exercise with the negative memory.
You break the state again.
When you start to feel the negative emotional state again you start to put your finger on the related knuckle and then you put a second finger on the first knuckle. The one that was associated with the positive emotional states.
If it worked, the negative emotional state should be completely erased. Meaning you feel neutral again.
But I'll give you that NLP works better if someone else is involved.
Sometimes just asking the right questions is enough. If you want me to help you with the blocks you have at the moment, you can book a session.
"What if I want to be in a good emotional state all the time?"
The secret to avoiding negative emotional states is to let negative emotions out as fast as possible and then to change the subject as fast as possible.
Just as kids would do. You know, when they're angry and upset at one moment, and two minutes later, there are laughing, because they don't care about what people will think about their rapid change of state. They just are in the moment
Once negative emotional patterns are hard-wired, the techniques I've talked about (except for NLP maybe) aren't going to solve the problem in the long run - or at least they sure have to be repeated.
There are many, many ways to get rid of constant negative emotional states - one obvious is therapy - but again here, discernment is super important. Not all therapies are appropriated for your problems and not all therapists are the right match. As I said earlier in this article, some problems aren't psychological but neurological.
That said I deeply believe in the efficiency and longevity of the following principles because I've tried them on me, and they work:
1 - You don't let the bad stuff in, in the first place.
You avoid annoying people and situations as much as you can as long as you're not strong enough. Instead of thinking that you should confront yourself with your problems all the time (in order to get stronger), think of it like this:
You wouldn't put a naked defenceless baby in the middle of the street at nights, would you?
2- If it comes in, you let it out ASAP without hurting anyone. Or you stand up for yourself when someone tries to "manipulate" or "attack" you (whatever that might look like) by clarifying the situation.
Misunderstandings aren't uncommon. And I'll give you that, passive-aggressive people built their behavior on that bet but often people say hurtful things without even meaning to hurt you.
3- You pay attention to what you read, watch, and listen to. If it feels wonky and wrong, stop doing it.
4- You take care of yourself by meditating, exercising, eating not too bad, sleeping a reasonable amount if you can, etc. Whatever feels like self-care to you.
5- You develop awareness about your negative thoughts (the ones that aren't serving you, not the ones who are necessary for your critical mind) and find a way (remember my air horn example) to stop them every time you notice them.
6- If someone punches you in the face you punch back.
Just kidding. But if you're normally a sensitive and considerate person, it might have a cathartic effect on you.
In the beginning, it's going to feel like a struggle but the more you take these habits, the easier it will get.
It's like bad habits. It doesn't appear overnight and it doesn't disappear overnight.
Of course, you can access your subconscious with less conventional techniques like hypnosis or whatever techniques are out there (and be super careful here with whom you do something like this) but a negative emotional state took time to get into your brain it can take time to get out of it.
One helpful thing is to remember this:
A bad experience just took a few seconds or minutes to get wired into your memory, so theoretically, it doesn't have to take years to get out of it either. The key is to find out how. And here again, everybody might react to different things.
Until then, if you just want to get rid of a bad habit like procrastinating on your current (creative) project, I offer one-one-coaching sessions to support you in this direction.