Negative Emotions—How Can They Be Overcome?
THE first step toward controlling negative emotions is: Identify the negative thoughts.
Second: Work on correcting the negative thoughts. If, for instance, you were thinking, ‘I never do anything right,’ substitute this with, ‘I’m just like everyone else; I do many things right, but I make my share of mistakes too.’
Do not expect to feel better immediately after making this correction (although you may), and do not get stuck mentally debating the matter. Just make the affirmation and move on to the next step.
The third step is to work at dismissing the troublesome thought from your mind. Try to push it out as forcefully and confidently as you would the thought of committing a serious crime. While you may be able to do this with strong mental effort, of immense help in doing so is the fourth step: Get absorbed in something else, something upbuilding.
This is vital because your negative thoughts will repeatedly try to force their way back into your mind. But you have this advantage: You can only concentrate fully on one thing at a time. You can prove this to yourself by trying to concentrate totally on two subjects at the same time. If your mind is already fully occupied with something else, it will be difficult for your negative thoughts to return.
The way negative thoughts can be replaced by positive ones is illustrated by Dr. Maxwell Maltz, who states: “When your phonograph is playing music you don’t like, you do not try to force it to do better. . . . You merely change the record being played and the music takes care of itself. Use the same technique on the ‘music’ that comes out of your own internal machine.”
Yes, negative thoughts are often too strong to be simply dismissed. They must be forced out by replacement. Put a different “record” on, a positive one. Switch to a different, upbuilding “channel,” a different “station,” and get absorbed in it.
It Will Be Difficult
The above four steps are easily explained, but how hard they can be to follow! Therefore, do not be surprised if overcoming negative thoughts and emotions is difficult for you at first. Expect it to be difficult, but know that in time it will get easier.
Take the example of Cindy, a teacher who was raised by an alcoholic mother. For years Cindy suffered with feelings of guilt and insecurity. Then she decided to come to grips with the problem. What did she do?
Cindy explains: “First I worked to identify the specific thoughts that caused my negative feelings. Whenever these thoughts would surface, I would rethink them, rationally and objectively. Then I would work on making positive thoughts flow. I forced my mind to dwell on my students and how I could help them. Gradually, it became easier, and I felt more in control of my feelings.”
Yet, you may wonder . . .
Why Is It So Hard?
Are bad habits, such as overeating or smoking, easily broken? By no means! They are overcome only by conscious, determined effort over a period of time. For many, negative thinking is a habit, and like other bad habits, it is a hard one to break.
If negative thinking is a habit with you, overcoming it will likely take the same determination that it takes a person who goes on a diet or one who decides to quit smoking.
The point is, do not give up and decide to remain depressed because it is easier to do so. Stick with your fight against negative thinking, even if it means many months of trial and error and perhaps relapse. Stay with it as if you were training for an athletic contest. Look to long-term results rather than immediate satisfaction.
Can They Be Completely Eliminated?
Can negative emotions be completely eliminated? Well, if you expect to achieve perfect happiness now, you will meet with frustration and disappointment. Happiness is at this time relative and incomplete. But that is still much better than being locked into a life of persistent and debilitating negative emotions.
Does this mean that negative emotions will never be overcome? By no means. The Bible realistically explains that this imperfect condition will be with us for a while yet, but that there is an appointed time for it to be eliminated forever. That will take place soon when God’s Kingdom, his heavenly government in the hands of Jesus Christ, completely takes over all affairs of this earth and begins the process of lifting mankind up to human perfection. Jesus called the process “the re-creation [or, “regeneration,” footnote].”—Matthew 19:28; see also Psalm 37:29; Matthew 6:9, 10; Revelation 21:3-5.
For now, however, accepting the limitations placed upon us by human imperfection will make you happier. Instead of going to extremes in search of perfect mental health, you will be free to pursue other matters of life. And you will find much greater peace of mind and happiness in knowing that the ultimate solution to negative emotions lies in the capable hands of Almighty God.
Are the suggestions here merely hypothetical? Do they really work? Yes they do, as the following true life experiences show.
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You can replace negative thoughts with positive ones
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Do not give up and decide to remain depressed because it is easier to do so
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Like losing weight, learning to control our emotions takes time and persistence