Expressing Negative Emotions Intelligently is Good for Your Health

Expressing Negative Emotions Intelligently is Good for Your Health
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 28 July, 2022

Expressing negative emotions when you feel them does not mean losing controlBecause getting angry, saying “I’ve had enough”, reacting to someone who wants us to be meek and silent… this can be healthy, even necessary.

Winston Churchill’s biographers wrote that the celebrated British prime minister had inherited his leadership abilities and Victorian poise from his father. From his mother, he inherited his stubbornness, energy, and an innate capacity for persuasion.

However, just as the politician himself said more than once, his family had a peculiar coat of arms that he carried with resignation throughout his life: depression.

His “black dog”, as Churchill called it, invaded his personal life. On the surface, he was an energetic man with a will of iron who managed to keep Great Britain from succumbing to the Nazis, who stood out for being a great journalist, and who even was awarded a Nobel Prize for literature.
Nevertheless, on the inside, all of the accumulated tension and anxiety mounted up like heavy stones to be digested one by one in deep silence.

Because as a politician, society allowed him to let his manners go every once in a while to show his courage and energy, but as a man, he had less leeway. He lived with his “black dog”, his books, and his infinite bottles of brandy…

Winston Churchill and his black dog of depression

You can express your negative emotions without losing control

If there is anything that our society has taught incorrectly, it is that there are good emotions and bad emotions. Actually, if we say here that irritation, rage, and anger are healthy, you may immediately think it’s a contradiction. How can these emotions that are traditionally related to aggression, arguments, or even violence be good?

Well, this stereotype is very common, and it’s just an example of our lack of competence in emotional matters. Because we need to be clear, it’s that there are no good or bad emotions.
Even more, if we commit the error of repressing, swallowing, or disguising our anger or irritation, the only thing that we will achieve in the long term — on top of emotional indigestion — is that our “positive” emotions will lose their intensity.

We have the right to express our negative emotions. Of course, the best way to do so is with intelligence and assertiveness. We can grant ourselves permission to show our anger and our irritation.

Just because we associate these emotions with problems does not mean at all that they are “bad”. Moreover, we can learn a lot from them about our psychological health: it leads us to resolve conflict better.

We were born with the capacity to be aggressive. However, this does not make us bad people. Anger has accompanied us since our childhood and in the end it is our responsibility to use it in a practical manner, to defend ourselves and define limits.

an angry owl feeling negative emotions

Adaptive anger and good anger

Ana is a math teacher for high school freshmen. On top of being a great teacher, she has excellent leadership skills. She knows how to communicate with her students when they don’t pay attention to her or when they don’t perform as they should.

She is agile in her communication, quick to react, and she knows how to express her emotions so that they positively impact her students. With the energy that she draws from her own emotions, she is able to encourage them, supervise them, and inspire them at the same time.

However, all of  these qualities that Ana shows in the classroom, she doesn’t have in her personal life, with her family, and her partner. She is the type of person who juggles everything in order to satisfy everyone, and tries to make time where she doesn’t have any, and is incapable of saying “no” to anybody.

Ana’s anger and frustration is building up so much that she senses that at one point or another it will start to affect her work.

Next, we will invite you to reflect on some simple principles that would be a great help to Ana and any other person in the same situation as she is.

an angry woman not expressing negative emotions

Keys to intelligent emotional expression

To begin, let’s remember one detail: in order to express our negative emotions without losing control, we need to use functional, adaptive, and controlled anger. 

Here, we mean communication without yelling, insulting, or needless reproach. It is communication where every word that is said first goes through a filter of respect and calm.

We do not repress our feelings, nor do we mask them. If there is something that bothers us or hurts us, we should not swallow those emotions like we’re forcing down rotten food.

However, it does not mean responding immediately with anger. If you do this, it’s very likely that your anger will open up the most dysfunctional part of you, and so the situation will not go well.

The best thing to do in these cases is to plan out beforehand what we are going to say, how we will say it, and when to say it. This planning gives us the possibility of being more intelligent — not false or insincere — with our reaction.

In conclusion, well-managed anger has the potential to give us the strength that we need to resolve all kinds of situations. Therefore, expressing ourselves in an intelligent, respectful, and assertive manner gives us the possibility to be truly free.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.