You feel like a prisoner to your negative emotions.
Like they control and manipulate you.
What if you could choose how to react to an annoying situation or person?
Good news, you can!
But before you become a superwoman of your emotions—and not an emotional superwoman 😉 —you have to first be aware of them.
In The No-Nonsense Guide to Overcoming Negative Thinking, I suggest observing the negative thoughts and emotions that rise in your daily life. It’s the absolute first step to gain control.
Yet another way to become aware of your negative emotions is to identify the “breadcrumbs” they leave behind: negative emotional reactions like blaming, over-apologizing and withdrawing.
Everyone has “negative” emotional reactions. They protect us.
The hard truth—you feel hurt, afraid, sad or vulnerable. And you’re not allowing those emotions to just be.
It’s understandable. These emotions don’t feel good. We think that if we let them be, they’ll take control of our lives. People won’t like us anymore. Then we’ll feel worse.
But it’s not true.
Negative emotional reactions, like defense mechanisms, buffer you from feeling difficult emotions. They don’t fix the problem.
What to do?
Baby steps, friend.
Let’s start by identifying which ways you avoid your negative emotions. See 27 ways below and contemplate the questions to bring your feelings to the surface. (It’s scary, but you gotta do it. I’m here with you.)
And don’t forget to sign up for your 9-page playbook too. It’ll guide you through this hard work.
Once you see how you avoid your negative emotions and allow them to be, you’ll feel more in control of your life.
1. Acting angry. Snapping at people, yelling, threatening, swearing, being violent and storming out.
2. Arguing. Needing to prove that you’re right. Feeling superior to others. Making a scene.
3. Criticizing, judging or blaming. Feeling offended. Taking things personally.
4. Overanalyzing. Jumping to conclusions. Assuming other people’s thoughts, actions or intentions. Expecting the worst.
5. Being deliberately negative. Gossiping. Complaining. Making unfriendly, annoying, resentful or sarcastic remarks.
Accept + Learn
“Fight” emotional reactions use force to gain control of a situation or person. You feel superior or invulnerable in the moment, but you’re actually feeling hurt, afraid, sad or vulnerable. You believe that if you “fight” by acting stronger, better or more right than the other person, you’ll be able to cope.
Please stop denying your vulnerability. You’re allowed to feel soft and tender. Blaming others worsens things. Breathe. Witness the emotions moving through you.
Then, ask yourself:
- What’s making me feel hurt, afraid, sad or vulnerable?
- Where am I holding judgments on myself?
- What are my boundaries? When did I cross them?
In my first blog article, I talked about how I grew up with parents who unmercifully criticized me. Yet over time I became a raging critic myself! Nothing was ever good enough for me. Life kicked me in the butt many times before I stopped breathing fire.
Turns out, I was deeply hurt and hiding from a fear of never being good enough. It took me years to heal. And you know what? I still need to remind myself once in a while that I’m good enough. Practice, practice, practice.
Fold + Stay
6. Peacekeeping. Putting up with bad treatment. Being pleasant or obedient to avoid conflict.
7. Excusing others. Bending over backwards to understand, excuse or forgive others.
8. Caretaking with strings attached. Taking care of others to feel better about your situation; when you don’t get recognition, you’re upset.
9. Over-apologizing to reduce blame and avoid offending others.
10. Constantly doubting yourself. Feeling inferior to others and not believing in yourself and your capacities.
Accept + Learn
You’re afraid of being alone or abandoned. You believe that you’re somehow powerless, helpless or unable to cope. In relation to the other person, you believe that you’re weaker, lesser or not as good as them.
You’ve internalized other people’s beliefs about who you should be and/or who you are. Reconnect with yourself and see what truly speaks to you and what doesn’t. You’re worthy and have much to offer even if you don’t quite believe it yet.
- Which thoughts disempower me?
- Where else in my life do I have disempowering thoughts?
- How would my life look if I stopped making myself smaller?
Imagine reaching for some lettuce at a grocery store. Someone cuts you off and grabs a head of lettuce. What do you do?
I used to apologize. Even though it was the other person’s fault. According to this NY Times article, it’s typical of women to apologize for our existence.
I apologized all the time. I’d get the same drink as my husband (even though I wanted a different one) to avoid bothering our hosts. I’d censor myself or, on the contrary, over-explain my opinions. Spotting the countless ways I made myself smaller empowered me to change.
11. Distancing. Walking away. Moving to another place. Blocking contact.
12. Escaping dramatically. Rushing out of the room crying or in panic.
13. Wallowing in your hurts. Yes, some use their pain to avoid more pain. See why here: 5 Reasons Why We Hold On to the Past and How to Let Go.
14. Acting confused. Pretending to not understand what’s going on to avoid facing reality.
Accept + Learn
We’ve all heard of “fight or flight”. “Flight” reactions are about escaping from an uncomfortable situation, which temporarily alleviates the hurt, sadness or fear. It hurts so much that it seems easier to flee. We all wish that our negative emotions could just go away.
But, believe it or not, escaping our pain and fears amplifies them. Emotions need to flow. When you attach too much importance to your emotions (by denying or identifying yourself with them), you’re not letting them flow.
Let go. Allow the discomfort to go through you.
- Which emotional wounds or fears am I running away from?
- What if this were an opportunity to change and see things differently?
- What needs to happen for me to stop fleeing?
Ah, story of my (young adult) life! When I could no longer take my parents’ nonstop criticism, I distanced myself. I moved to France, where I could live life on my terms.
But when the afterglow rubbed off, I realized that I was still fleeing… in my mind. My own voice echoed my parents’ criticism. Each achievement crumbled away as the bar of expectations rose higher and higher. I only began feeling peaceful when I accepted my fears and dismantled my inner critic.
15. Blanking out. Functioning on autopilot. Having your mind go blank, so that you don’t have to think, cope or decide.
16. Clamming up. Not knowing what to say/do. Or not being able to say/do anything.
17. Shutting down. Feeling trapped and frozen or even fainting. Deer-in-the-headlights.
18. Losing hope. Feeling so helpless that there’s no motivation to fix things.
Accept + Learn
Have you heard of “freeze” as a response to stress? It’s when you stuff down your negative emotions and deflect attention away from yourself to avoid feeling powerless.
You’ve come to believe that you’re incapable of coping. It makes sense because you’ve experienced feeling hopeless so much.
But, dear one, trust that this situation will pass sooner or later like everything else. You’re strong enough.
Bring your attention to the present. You can do this by focusing on your belly as you breathe till you feel calmer. Here are some other ways to recenter yourself: 10 Quick Ways to Calm Down Intense Negative Emotions.
- What am I feeling right now? How does that feel in my body?
- What’s one positive thing that I can do to resolve this difficult situation?
- What’s my next (baby) step?
When I was little, I’d clam up whenever an adult yelled at me. I remember feeling afraid and totally lost as to what to say or do. So I blamed myself, It’s my fault. I can’t do anything right.
As an adult, I had no idea that that habit stayed with me till I got into some heated arguments with my sweetheart. I trained myself to pay attention to my body’s reactions during conflicts, which helped me center myself and express my feelings.
19. Claiming everything’s fine. Brushing off your problems. Vehemently avoiding talking about how you feel with loved ones. Refusing help. Perfectionism.
20. Being cold. Denying your feelings so that you seem unemotional or invincible.
21. Joking around. Deflecting attention away from your fear, pain, sadness or anger via humor.
22. Showing off. Trying to make a good impression on others through your possessions, appearance, status, abilities, etc.
23. Forging ahead. Being extremely focused on what’s ahead and driven to reach your goals despite how awful you feel.
Accept + Learn
Somewhere along the line, you learned that it’s too risky to show that you’re vulnerable. After all, having a thick skin has gotten you far in life.
But when it comes to loved ones, a thick skin can keep you from truly enjoying their company and deepening your relationship with them. You’re also likely avoiding your own feelings, which of course doesn’t help.
Allow yourself to feel vulnerable. Feel the fear of feeling vulnerable. You’ll be alright.
- What’s unpleasant in this moment?
- When was the last time I felt like this? How did I react? What were the results?
- How would my life look if I kept acting like everything’s fine forever?
A friend of mine, after confiding to me about her personal problems, systematically reassures me by saying, Everything’s fine! It’s no big deal. Why would my friend divulge her story and ask for advice, only to brush the whole thing off?
I think she feels uneasy about being transparent and vulnerable. You know how I know? I used to be the same way!
I tended to make my life seem perfect when I talked to friends and family because I was afraid of being judged. But I couldn’t hide the truth for very long, as I felt miserable.
When I finally did share details of my life with friends and family, I found both support and criticism. But I felt lighter and happier being myself and my relationships have become more profound since I’ve opened up.
24. Abusing substances. Finding refuge in alcohol, drugs or cigarettes.
25. Denying reality. Keeping a stiff upper lip or forcing yourself to think only positive thoughts.
26. Distracting yourself with activities. Includes eating, having sex, gambling and imagining a fantasy world, but you can also use work, studies, sports or hobbies to avoid pain or contact.
27. Giving up. Never wanting to do that ever again. Playing safe instead of taking risks.
Accept + Learn
“Forget It” emotional reactions are no different from the rest: they allow you to momentarily avoid emotional pain, fears, discussion or action.
Ok, occupying yourself with work, sports or hobbies can be a healthy coping mechanism, but be honest with yourself: Am I using this activity to avoid pain/reality? Or to help me heal, move on and feel fulfilled?
Always allow the pain or fear. This is the most essential thing.
- What am I avoiding in the present moment?
- What are others’ expectations of me? What do I really want?
- What can I learn from this situation?
I used to throw myself into work whenever life got tough. The logic behind that? Well, feeling crappy won’t get me anywhere. So, get to work, Annie! And off I went to accomplish all my tasks.
At the end of the day, I felt proud of my machine-like efficacity, but also mentally exhausted. Imagine doing that day after day for years… umm, burnout! Life forced me to slow down to see what I was avoiding all along.
Turns out, I was denying how much old experiences still hurt; overworking compensated for my lack of self-esteem. Slowly but surely, I unpacked and accepted each and every one of those past hurts. This has been primordial for my happiness today.
So, how many ways do you avoid your negative emotions?
Guess how many I’m guilty of?
ALL of them!
Everyone tends to avoid their negative emotions. It helps us cope in difficult situations. So, let’s stop judging ourselves.
Life would be intolerable if you had to deal with all your troubles in one go. We need time to digest our feelings, get new perspectives and find solutions.
However, when you feel like a prisoner to your negative emotions, that’s a STOP sign. It means that you’re neglecting yourself and you should slow down to take care of your emotions.
If you don’t, your current problems will mutate into bigger ones. New problems will crop up. Before you realize it, you’ll be living on autopilot to avoid going nuts.
So, don’t neglect how you feel: It’s just not possible to be happy or peaceful in the long run if you do so.
Let out those painful memories and feelings.
They’re waiting for you to accept them.
Then, you can be on your way.
Then, you can be free.
Tell me in the comments section:
What’s the #1 way you tend to avoid feeling hurt, sad, afraid or vulnerable?
If you haven’t already, sign up below for your playbook and take back the control from your negative emotions!
About the author
Annie Moussu is a mindfulness coach on a mission to help perfectionists let go of self-doubt, fear of failure and people-pleasing. Sign up for her newsletter and get access to free resources.