The five primary negative emotions are important feedback tools for our learning and growth.  They are anger, sadness, fear, hurt and guilt and are the way our unconscious mind lets us know one or more of our boundaries have been crossed.  Boundaries which can be changed through our decisions and beliefs.

To see my latest thinking around this idea, after you’ve read this, see the five truths download link at the end of this post.

What are negative emotions for?

Negative emotions are the way our unconscious mind lets us know there is something to learn. If we didn’t learn then we may make the same mistake twice. By learning, we can better ourselves and grow as people. Learning sometimes happens unconsciously over time, however, sometimes they cannot be resolved by ourselves so we talk with people who are close to us.

Have you heard the story about the time someone lost their keys and got stuck outside their house all night or the time when they broke their arm falling off a roof as a kid or something similar yet they tell the story in joking manner with plenty of laughter? Events like these were most likely traumatic at the time yet a few days, weeks or years later there are no negative feelings associated with them whatsoever. How can this be the case?

The answer is because in each case the person learnt positive things from the events. These positive learnings prevented the person from repeating the same behaviour making the negative emotion redundant so it releases itself.

By understanding the mechanics of this process of learning to release emotions, we can fast track this learning process by asking ourselves that very question: “what can I learn from this”.

The five primary negative emotions and their uses

  • Anger - usually linked to poor communication
  • Sadness - feeling sorry for oneself
  • Fear - feeling of the unknown
  • Hurt - feeling sorry for oneself
  • Guilt - having made mistakes, not doing the right thing

All other negative emotions which we experience fall underneath these primary ones.  For example frustration could be classed as a type of anger and anxiety could be fear - whatever feels right for you is perfect.

The process of resolving negative emotions

The process is that you ask yourself which of the five primary negative emotions you are feeling and then ask yourself what you can learn from it.  The learning needs to be:

  • Positive
  • Future focused

To help with the learnings, use the information below as a starting point.

How each of them can be released

Anger - who have you not listened to or who were you not patient with because they did not understand your communication? What will you change next time in order to learn from this?

Sadness - it is OK to feel sorry for yourself but what does it bring you - more sadness. Ask yourself what you can learn from it in order that you grow and move onward.

Fear - for what, protection? Fear does not protect you, your fight-or-flight response does. What can you learn from the fear in order that you can proceed? What is the worst that could happen?

Hurt - what for - to prevent future hurt? What can you learn from this in order to let it go once and for all?

Guilt - mistakes are the most important thing we can do as long as we learn from them.  What can you learn and what actions can you take in order that guilt releases and you make amends with yourself.

Nobody makes you feel a certain way

The most common objection I get to this model is, “I can’t choose how I feel - they made me angry/sad”. The question I then ask is, “how did they make you angry/sad? Did they wrap it up as a present and give it to you?”

The fact is nobody makes you feel a certain way.  We say something to ourselves and then make a decision as to how to feel. This is explained more thoroughly in my post on internal dialogue.

Things to consider

Sometimes we may experience more than one emotion during a period of time and this can be overwhelming. The skill is taking your time to isolate one emotion, taking a deep breath and asking yourself “what positive things can I learn from this which will help me in the future?”

Sometimes the stronger the emotion the more significant the learning. This is why understanding your emotions and what they are telling you is so important in your personal development.

Over time you will become more in tune at listening to your emotions and when that day comes, nothing will phase you.