The critical and commercial success of the 2015 Pixar movie, Inside Out, was especially notable given its subject matter. While Pixar was known for its signature 3-D animations and heart-warming storylines, it was both unusual and impressive in its ability to convey in a children’s movie the importance of negative emotions in one’s development and growth.
In an age of pop psychology, negative emotions have often become easy scapegoats. Negative emotions are also what’s to blame for what ails you as well as what ails you. Experts seem to advise positive thoughts and positive thinking will get you out of your rut. While the field of positive psychology has helped us in a myriad of ways, by identifying positive thoughts as, well, positive, this identification has also led to a downside. This is to say: if positive emotions are good, it would be natural to assume that negative emotions are bad.
And this view is hard to deny as studies have shown that positive thinkers are more successful in life, with healthier personal and emotional lives and relationships.
Yet, we need to take a second look at the negative emotions for what they are.
If we parallel negative emotions with that of physical pain in the body, we can take an important lesson for its function in our lives and personal growth. We might even do this by observing those who are unable to feel physical pain. Called Anhidrosis, or CIPA, it is a disorder experienced only by an extremely small percentage people. A description of it by a mother whose daughter suffers from the rare genetic disorder gives us food for thought:
“Pain’s there for a reason. It lets your body know something’s wrong and it needs to be fixed. I’d give anything for her to feel pain.”
Just like physical pain, emotional pain has an important function and that we need to pay attention to. Just as we look at physical pain as signals, we can see emotional pain as important calls for attention to specific needs.
With this in mind, it is worth taking the time to “unpack” the experiences that give rise to our negative emotions. In doing so, we can come to understand what it is that we need to do or be aware of in all areas of our lives whether it is in school, work, or business, and especially in our personal relationships and families.
In our journey to have healthy, happy families, we need to have a growth mentality – to grow our knowledge of ourselves, to cultivate our character and find new ways to develop. Along with this willingness and mentality to always grow and become better, we need tools along the way. Understanding that, in fact, negative emotions can become part of our toolkit for understanding ourselves and others can also be liberating in that we no longer need to hide from or ignore or erase negative emotions, but embrace them as indicators of our opportunities for growth.