The Positive Side of Negative Emotions

positiveside of negativeFear. Guilt. Anger. These are just a few of the negative emotions we are taught from a very young age are “bad.” We are taught to suppress instead of embracing and learning. How many times were you told “don’t get mad” or “it’s silly to be scared” as a child?

Half the battle is acknowledging we have negative emotions rather than denying and shrugging them off. The other half is figuring out why we are feeling bad, which requires conscious effort and self-examination. It can be challenging because negative emotions rarely come in singles, they travel in packs and invite their friends. Here are a few of the most common miscreants:


Are you steamed up or perhaps seeing red? There are plenty of idioms and expressions for anger and they cover a wide variety of circumstances. Did an encounter cause more heat than light? The phrase is a favourite of mine and is particularly useful to describe a meeting that caused intense anger and reactions without clarifying or accomplishing anything. It’s a common situation, so if you find yourself heating up, try to stay calm and look for the light. It is surprisingly difficult to practice when you’re surrounded by heat!

Anger can be funneled into positive change. Most policy change and social reform has stemmed out of people being angry with a situation and working for change. Anger is a sign of passion – if you did not care you would not be angry. Anger presents learning opportunities, if you can recognize them.

It is important to teach children to work through their negative emotions and be inspired by them. This is usually best done after the heat of the moment, when the child has calmed down.


Fear can be liberating if you have the courage to face it. Most fears are external and groundless, and if you examine them under a bright light they will not survive.

There is physical and psychological fear. Physical fear is our biological “Fight or Flight” response, which gives us energy, sharpen our senses and alerts us to danger around us.

Psychological or emotional fear is usually our imagination working overtime, trying to keep us firmly rooted in our comfort zones. The trick here is to teach kids the difference.

With young children, ask them to tell you where they feel the fear. Is it in their head or in their gut? Do they have goosebumps? Can they explain their fears? There are many different ways we feel emotion and how they affect us physically; we have the expression “trust your gut” for a reason!

Children are naturally more intuitive and, consciously or not, pay more attention to minute clues than adults. They rely on instinct and don’t let the mind get in the way. This is how children always seem to know which dogs and people to stay away from and which will be friendly.

The key here is to never deny or ignore fear. It is a warning sign that we are not comfortable, even if it is just our comfort zone talking to us, telling us not to do something because someone somewhere might make fun of us. Dealing with and examining our fears as they arise can set the stage for incredible growth.


Guilt is a sign from your moral compass. There is personal guilt and external guilt. Personal guilt is internal, and is a direct response to something you have done or failed to do. It crops up when your conscious tells you something isn’t quite right. Try not to let guilt consume and control you, because it will if you let let it! Harness your guilt and use it to inspire action or change – it can be a strong tool for personal growth, just like any other negative emotion.

External guilt is a common motivating and marketing tool, as frustrated parents say finish your dinner, there are starving children in Africa and television commercials tell you buy our product or your child will never succeed.  It also works as a convenient excuse for staying inside your comfort zone and not taking risks and growing.

Be very careful of external guilt, as it is a tool other people try to use to control us and influence our actions. Often, friends and family use external guilt because they think is in our best interest, even to the point of using it unintentionally.

When we let external guilt control us, we lose some of our own power and confidence. We learn to rely on external stimuli, and external cues for our moral compass even though the cues might be for a completely different path than our own. While guilt and other emotions can make powerful tools, be cautious of others using them against you. Guilt and company are like any other tools, potentially useful and potentially destructive.

The more in-tune with ourselves the easier it is to use negative emotions in a positive way for our own self-growth. This requires a lot of thought and practice, but it is something you can work on as a family. You may be pleasantly surprised at the difference in your household – it sure has made a difference in ours!

Posted in Children's Development, Communication.

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