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"Negative emotions are too powerful. I have no choice but to bear them until they pass.”

That is how some respond to the idea of overcoming emotions such as anxiety, fear, anger, frustration, guilt, self pity and depression. But rather than surrender to them, whenever they arise, one can lessen their intensity or even eliminate them.

Many are unable to repair the damage of a loss, causing them to become vulnerable to a negative train of thoughts. Lack of confidence causes them to develop fear of people’s disapproval. Such ones tend to build their self-esteem on the approval of others, rather than their achievements. They estimate their own worth to the extent they are likable to someone else. Loss of such support leads to a fall in self-esteem and brings depression.

Trying to show oneself nearly ‘perfect’ to others may lead to emotional strain. The frustration can also make one think, “I can’t do anything right” or “I’m just a careless person.” This type of selfblame undermines selfesteem.

Not all negative emotions are harmful. For example, when we make a blunder, we may express remorse. If this moves us to seek a reasonable solution and avoid repeating it, then this emotion has a positive long- term effect.

What if after one has done what one reasonably can to correct an error, but feelings of guilt or worthlessness still cling and even persist for a long time? Or what if after we resolve a problem to the extent possible, worry still remains and even intensifies? How can these emotional responses be controlled? The key is in controlling our thinking.

Those who work in the field of mental health say that our feelings are caused by our thoughts. We cannot have a feeling (emotion) without first having experienced a thought. The first step toward controlling negative emotions is to identify the negative thoughts.

The second step is to work on correcting such negative thoughts. If, for example, one often thinks, “I can never do anything right,” it can be replaced with, ‘I’m just like everyone else, I do many things right, but I make my share of mistakes too.’

One cannot expect to feel better immediately after making this correction, and neither should one get stuck mentally debating over the matter. It’s vital to just make the affirmation and move on to the next step.

The third step is to work at dismissing the troublesome thought from one’s mind. One needs to push it out forcefully. The fourth step is of immense help in doing so, to get absorbed in something else, something interesting.

Negative thoughts will repeatedly try to force their way back into the mind. But if the mind is already fully occupied with something else, it will be difficult for these thoughts to return. Changing the ‘music’ that comes out of our own internal machine, that is, one’s unpleasant thoughts, can be replaced by positive ones. Putting on a different ‘track’, a positive one and switching to a different ‘channel’, a different ‘station’ and getting absorbed in it, often works.

The above four steps are easy to explain but can be hard to follow. Overcoming negative emotions is difficult initially, but it gets easier with time and by constant mental effort.

Most are habitual of wrong thinking patterns, and like other habits, it is a hard one to break. Overcoming it will likely take the same determination that it takes for a person who goes on a diet or one who decides to quit smoking.

One must not give up but stick to the fight against negative thinking, even if it means months of trial and error and relapses. Looking at long-term results and staying with it as if one were training for a contest can help one to continue with the struggle.

If we expect to achieve perfect happiness now, we will meet with frustration and disappointment. Happiness is relative and never complete. But that is still much better than being locked into a life of persistent and debilitating negative emotions. Instead of going to extremes in search of perfect mental health, it is wise to accept one’s limitations and focus on other matters of life.

A person’s thinking is the root cause of low selfesteem. When one fixes the way one thinks about certain things, this could affect one’s life for good. A measure of relief and comfort follows. Giving others personal attention, praise and spending some time with them, is the best therapy to boost their selfesteem.


Rekha Kumar The writer is a work-life balance and leadership skills facilitator [email protected]

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