If there were just three Horsemen of the apocalypse instead of four they would probably be named fear, doubt and worry. After all, what can be more terrifying?
The interesting thing about these emotions as we tend to not only create them ourselves we distort them and make them bigger than they actually are (Tracy & Stein 38). Have you ever heard the old adage, “you’re making a mountain out of a molehill.” Of course I’ve never actually seen a molehill so maybe it’s pretty big to begin with, but you get the point.
Incidentally, the roots of these emotions may not be our fault. Sometimes a destructive childhood or other negativity early in our life can lead us to develop negative emotions, and as we get older they become more and more intense. But that does not mean we can’t yank these up by the roots now – after all, we are no longer children, right?
If you’re wondering what these roots look like here they are:
- Justification: Justification means you’re defending your right to be negative and angry (Tracy & Stein 39), which just sounds sort of stupid when you read it out loud doesn’t it? Ever catch yourself talking to yourself while you’re driving and whipping yourself into a frenzy as you argue with people who are not there, and present your justification for why you’re ticked off at something? I’ve never done that of course, but maybe you have. Justification is a root that allows you to continue to be angry – it also feeds on itself – the more you justify, the angrier you get. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Yank it up and let it go.
- Identification: identification means you take things personally (Tracy & Stein 40). Again, I have never done this myself :- but personally identifying with a negative situation will cause you to generate a lot of negative emotion about it.
- Hypersensitivity: this is the third cause of negative emotions, hypersensitivity to the thoughts, opinions or attitudes of others toward you (Tracy & Stein 41). Sometimes feelings of inferiority or inadequacy will manifest in how you are treated by others (Tracy & Stein 41). Here is a shocking revelation, it’s not always about you.
- Judgementalism: judgmentalism is the tendency of people to make negative assessments about others. When you judge others, you will find them guilty of something but you actually bring the negativity and unhappiness on yourself. I’m rubber you’re glue whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you. Lot of wisdom in that schoolyard wasn’t there?
- Rationalization: rationalization is what you do when you find an acceptable explanation to but otherwise unacceptable act (Tracy & Stein 47). Unfortunately, most of us cannot admit that we have done or said anything wrong, or done anything not thoroughly reasonable and justified. We will insist that we were innocent and merely victims of some outside influence or society issue that is beyond our control (Tracy & Stein 47). Unfortunately, society tends to punish us for being honest sometimes, so we find rather than rolling the dice of honesty to see if you get a good reaction, we cover it with a good rationalization, or a lie, it’s pretty much the same thing, to avoid being judged in the first place.
As the Eagles sang in their awesome song, “I’d like to take your inner child and kick its little ass, get over it.” But how?
One thing you can do is just decide that you’re done carrying all of these burdens and let them go – got to be heavy right? In the movie Dazed and Confused there is supposed to be a gigantic party but the kids’ parents find out about it so it is canceled; the kid is questioned about why the party got canceled, he simply says “hey man, it’s beyond me.” He doesn’t say it like he doesn’t understand what happened, he says it in a tone of voice that says he did not have control over it so he’s letting it go. A lot of the stuff we worry about is beyond us. So let it go.
Another way to move forward is by comparison (Tracy & Stein 44). If you think you have it bad, you can always find somebody who’s got it worse than you. Feel compassionate for them rather than feeling competitive with them.
Tracy and Stein say that sooner or later all negative emotions come down to one: anger (Tracy & Stein 47). All fear, doubt, jealousy, envy and resentment eventually turn into anger and when turned inwardly it makes us feel sick, both physically and emotionally; when directed outward it undermines and destroys our relationships with other people (Tracy & Stein 48). Just think back to how often anger made a situation better. It may of worked once or twice, and you got your way, but it usually leaves scorched earth in its wake. And scorched earth does not bear fruit.
The root cause of anger is blame (Tracy & Stein 49). Blaming ourselves or blaming others for something we have done or not done is an essential requirement for feeling all sorts of negative emotions (Tracy & Stein 49). If you want to get over the cycle of blame, just accept responsibility, simply say the words “I am responsible.” Tracy and Stein say that it is impossible to accept responsibility for a situation and simultaneously be angry or unhappy about it (50-51).
As for those negative emotions, since we can’t really unthink something we have to replace it. Have a plan in place ahead of time that when you’re starting to feel reasons to be fearful, doubtful, jealous, or angry, that you replace that with a different emotion or short circuit the expression of negative emotions by saying “I am responsible.” This is one of the ways I used to get over road rage.
I had to have an emotion and an action to replace the negative emotion and action that I typically had when I experienced road rage. I decided that I would exchange being cut off, having someone in front of me going to slow or a tailgater behind me, simply with a smile and if necessary a wave (with all five fingers). If you’re tailgating me, I will move over. If you’re going to slow I will wait patiently until its safe to pass. I also take responsibility – if you’re going to slow, I should have probably left earlier. I will also not give you the stare as I drive by. Instead I will focus forward and either sing-along to the radio, or flip over to NPR and see who’s talking. These personal distraction techniques have worked wonders.
What emotions do you want to experience and what actions are associated with those positive emotions? Decide now and the next time you begin to experience them replace them with what you want to do. Eventually this too becomes a habit which means you will do it without even thinking about it.
Tracy, Brian, and Christina Tracy. Stein. Kiss That Frog: 12 Great Ways to Turn Negatives into Positives in Your Life and Work. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2012. Print.