- We learn to view and label emotions as “good” and “bad”. Happiness being good, anger being bad, etc.
- Labeling emotions as “good” and “bad” is limiting and damaging to our mental health
- Emotions are meant to serve us but when we label them we become prisoners to them
- We need to see emotions on a spectrum if we want to increase our emotional wellbeing
- It’s not the emotion, it’s how we manage the emotion that matters.
We need to look at emotions differently if we want to be happy. Not on a scale of good or bad, but by the degree to which they serve us. Because life is complex, each emotion serves us differently in different situations.
Is being angry going to serve you? Well, that depends. Say you are angry because someone cut you off in traffic. Did that anger lead you to screaming, yelling, honking the horn and getting frustrated? Is your heart racing? Do you feel stressed? Are you now irritated and annoyed the rest of the day?
In that case, no, anger will not serve you. Because you are not managing the anger, the anger is overtaking you and negatively impacting your entire day.
However, if you acknowledge the anger for what it is, a secondary emotion to sadness. And that you are actually sad to be cut off because you perceive that as a slight against you. Then you can work through the emotion and use it to contribute to your growth.
Related article: 5 Steps to Effective Anger Management
Here, anger is likely showing you that you are taking things personally and you are assuming negative intent: “that mother fucker cut me off on purpose!!!”
Seeing anger differently will help you realize it’s not personal, assume positive intent, focus on what you can control and move about the rest of your day in a better emotional state. This rethinking and reworking of how you manage the emotion will help you better manage anger in every area of your life.
Emotional Spectrum Equals Emotional Management
The difference isn’t the situation, it’s how we manage the emotions. Which leads to the universal truth every human needs to know if they want to be happy: it’s not the emotions, it’s how we respond and manage the emotions that matters.
You can be angry all you want. It’s what you do with the anger that impacts your life and wellbeing.
Do you think Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was angry the people he loved were being harassed and murdered for the color of their skin? It seems logical he would be. But instead of using that anger to lash out or attack the attackers back, he advocated for peaceful protests.
He channeled his anger into love and peace. With that he made positive changes for the civil rights movement. Advocating for love and peace was so effective, the FBI listed him on their most wanted list and he was subject to investigation as a threat to the current political agendas. (Sidebar: how fucking baller is that!)
What Does the Emotional Spectrum Look like?
Viewing emotions on a spectrum looks like you NOT labeling an emotion as “bad” or “good” and allowing the emotion to be. It exists. It is acknowledging the emotion is present and being curious why you the emotion is present and the cause of its intensity.
So instead of thinking, “ugh, fuck that dude who just cut me off,” while beeping and screaming with your heart racing and you scare the other passengers in the car. It would look like, “damn, that dude cut me off and now I am feeling angry. Why am I feeling so angry?”
You’re allowed to think, “I’m feeling angry because dude’s inconsiderate as fuck and fuck him.”
But with that thought, you can conclude that the person who cut you off is rude and you no longer need to deal with them, so life moves on. Or you can go further and think maybe dude didn’t see you or was being absent minded and that happens to the best of us.
A Note From Lyndsey
The goal here is to stop limiting yourself. To stop getting in the way of your own happiness. And to do that you need to break the habit of labeling emotions as “good” and “bad”.
You can start by reflecting on previous times you labeled emotions and rework the situation. How would the situation be different if you didn’t label the emotion? Once you put this in to practice, you will notice when you are labeling emotions in real time and rework your thoughts.
Remember, improving your mental and emotional wellbeing looks like repetition and consistency. It isn’t a straight line, so sometimes you may take a step back, and that’s OK!
Photo by tao he