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How Emotionally Intelligent People Stop Judging Themselves for Negative Emotions to Reduce Stress and Experience Greater Life Satisfaction

Occasionally, we all get frustrated. We all get upset. We all get sad, angry, resentful, and jealous. No matter how hard you try, you’ll never totally eliminate negative emotions.

But you can change how negative emotions affect you.

According to a study published earlier this year in Emotion, judging your negative emotions — in short, letting yourself feel bad about feeling bad — makes you more likely to feel anxious, stressed, and even depressed, and leads to feeling less satisfied about your life overall.

If you think about it, that makes sense.

Say I get frustrated. OK, frustration kind of sucks. But if I get upset with myself for feeling frustrated, I’ve made a bad situation worse. Not to get too meta, but I’m feeling about feeling: instead of dealing with the source of my frustration, I’m now dealing (poorly) with the fact I let myself get frustrated.

Which sucks even more.

As the researchers write:

… positive judgments of positive emotions were uniquely associated with better psychological health, and negative judgments of negative emotions were uniquely associated with worse psychological health.

How people judge their emotions (and) how these judgments relate to other emotion-related constructs (result in) implications for psychological health.

Or in non-researcher-speak, judging a positive emotion positively makes things better. (Why not feel good about feeling good?)

But judging a negative emotion negatively only makes things worse.

Since at least occasionally experiencing negative emotions is unavoidable, how can you apply a little emotional intelligence to keep negative emotions from working against you?

Emotional Intelligence and Acceptance

For one thing, accept that negative emotions are a part of life.

While that sounds simple, it works: One study found that accepting negative emotion as normal helps keep you from reacting to the fact you feel that emotion — and feeling upset, guilty, or ashamed for feeling that way — and helps you focus on (and deal with) what caused of the emotion, not the emotion itself.

Again, that sounds meta, but the only way to fix a problem is to think about the problem itself, not the fact you have a problem. Frustration caused by an employee’s behavior is a problem you can solve; frustration caused by feeling frustrated is a problem you will never solve, since there’s no way to go through life without occasionally feeling frustrated.

Acceptance, in his case, is a good thing.

And if that doesn’t work, go one step further and try a little reframing.

Emotional Intelligence and Cognitive Reframing

In simple terms, reframing means viewing a situation or a problem from a different perspective. (Which you can’t do if you’re focused on the fact you’re feeling that emotion, and not on the source of the emotion.)

At least one therapist calls reframing “therapy’s most effective tool,” and science agrees.

A different study published in Emotion found that reframing a stimulus by viewing a situation or an event differently can significantly reduce feelings of fear. A study published in Journal of Evidence-Based Psychotherapies found that reframing can increase pain tolerance and decrease pain intensity. A study published in Journal of Clinical Psychology found that reframing can significantly reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.

The key is to view the situation from a different angle. As my Inc. colleague Justin Bariso recommends, when you’re frustrated, take a mental step back and ask yourself a few basic questions:

  • How serious is this problem? Am I getting worked up over nothing? The employee’s “frustrating” behavior may frustrate you only because it’s not the way you would do it.
  • Can I change something about how I view the problem that would completely change how I feel about it? Viewing the problem from a different perspective — not as a frustrating behavior, but as a way the employee found to work better for them — might eliminate your frustration.
  • How can I handle this problem differently so I can direct my emotional energy to bigger, more important issues? You want things to be done a certain way, so you want your employees to comply. But in some cases, maybe you don’t need them to change. Maybe there are bigger battles to fight. Maybe their overall performance is so great that a frustrating habit or two is irrelevant. Start seeing a habit as a quirk that, instead of making you frustrated, makes you smile and shake your head, and then move on to issues that matter more.

Try it. Instead of dwelling on how you feel, focus on what you need to do to deal with a problem. To overcome a challenge. To eliminate the source of a frustration.

We all, at least occasionally, will experience negative emotions. So don’t waste time judging yourself for feeling bad.

Focus on finding a way to fix whatever issue caused that negative emotion, or on reframing the situation so it no longer seems like an issue, and hopefully you won’t have to be upset about that problem again.

Because life creates enough new frustrations as it is.



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