When was the last time you lost your temper and got angry at someone?
Can you recall what happened?
Did you act on your negative feelings and let things spin out of control, made a scene and embarrassed yourself?
Or maybe you’ve chosen to suppress your negative feelings and said nothing, did nothing, pretended like everything is ok.
These two scenarios are so common that at some point you stopped noticing how you follow either of them in your daily life.
You might be asking yourself, “What can I do about it? Is there an effective solution to this problem?”
Yes, there is.
Today I want to share with you a powerful 5-step process for dealing with negative emotions as taught by Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh in his book Peace is Every Step.
Sometimes we find ourselves in a difficult long-term situation that can’t be changed right away.
The only thing we can do is to endure and take small steps towards the positive change.
But that doesn’t protect us from waves of negative thoughts and feelings that we’ll experience along the way.
Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us that the first step in dealing with negative emotions is to recognize them.
Anticipate the tide by observing the feeling arising in you and acknowledging that at this moment you’re angry, sad, resentful, anxious.
Seeing that you’re in the grip of a negative feeling is a powerful first step in the healing process.
The first step in dealing with feelings is to recognize each feeling as it arises. The agent that does this is mindfulness. In the case of fear, for example, you bring out your mindfulness, look at your fear, and recognize it as fear. You know that fear springs from yourself and that mindfulness also springs from yourself. They are both in you, not fighting, but one taking care of the other. — Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step
Once you see the tide of negative emotions, the next step is not to turn away from it, but face it directly.
You might be frightened at first. The habitual response is either let the feeling control you or try to suppress it. Both are destructive and useless.
When you muster the courage to face the feeling directly, you’ll realize that it’s only the feeling.
It’s not you.
It is best not to say, “Go away, Fear. I don’t like you. You are not me.” It is much more effective to say, “Hello, Fear. How are you today?” Then you can invite the two aspects of yourself, mindfulness and fear, to shake hands as friends and become one. Doing this may seem frightening, but because you know that you are more than just your fear, you need not be afraid. As long as mindfulness is there, it can chaperone your fear. (…) Although your mindfulness may not be very powerful in the beginning, if you nourish it, it will become stronger. — Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step
Once you’ve merged with the feeling, try to be comfortable with it. Don’t let resistance take over and break the healing chain.
This is a perfect opportunity to practice mindful breathing. As you breathe in and out, you calm your mind and body.
You may also notice feeling taking refuge in the body and manifesting as tension in your chest, pounding sensation in your head, clenching fists and so on.
As you notice this tension, gently calm it with the power of awareness and gentleness.
You calm your feeling just by being with it, like a mother tenderly holding her crying baby. Feeling his mother’s tenderness, the baby will calm down and stop crying. The mother is your mindfulness, born from the depth of your consciousness, and it will tend the feeling of pain. A mother holding her baby is one with her baby. — Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step
Now that you’re concentrated, calm and see your negative feeling, it’s time to let it go.
But how exactly can you do that?
This step might be difficult if you don’t practice meditation or just started your journey. But here’s how it works.
When you let the feeling be, you let it go. There is no resistance in you, only clear seeing, understanding, and even compassion for yourself and your feeling.
…you feel at ease, even in the midst of fear, and you know that your fear will not grow into something that will overwhelm you. When you know that you are capable of taking care of your fear, it is already reduced to the minimum, becoming softer and not so unpleasant. — Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step
By letting negative feeling be and releasing it, you gain the ability to look deeply into what caused it.
You will discover that the root of negative feelings and unhappiness lies in your perceptions and certain beliefs that are deeply rooted in your subconsciousness.
Ask yourself why are you holding on to those beliefs and perceptions. Do you really need to control everything?
The answer will reveal itself to you once you ready.
This is a process similar to psychotherapy. Together with the patient, a therapist looks at the nature of the pain. Often, the therapist can uncover causes of suffering that stem from the way the patient looks at things, the beliefs he holds about himself, his culture, and the world. (…) The same is true when we use mindfulness to transform our feelings. After recognizing the feeling, becoming one with it, calming it down, and releasing it, we can look deeply into its causes, which are often based on inaccurate perceptions. As soon as we understand the causes and nature of our feelings, they begin to transform themselves. — Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step
Apply This Process to Negative Emotions in Your Daily Life
Now that you know all the steps for dealing with negative feelings you can start to practice in your day to day life.
Whenever you confront a difficult situation remember to see the feeling, become one with it, calm, release and see clearly what caused it.
It will be difficult at first so don’t be discouraged. Keep practicing meditation and self-awareness whenever you can.
By the way, if you haven’t started your meditation practice yet, I’ve put together this 4-step worksheet to help you start meditating today. Download it by clicking the button below.