How To Make Difficult Emotions Work To Your Advantage (And Not Against You)
We often associate difficult emotions like jealousy, fear, and anger as being bad. But the secret of strong relationships is learning that no emotion is bad, it’s how we use the emotions we have that decide whether they are good for us or not. I’m going to show you how to make your emotions — and the emotions of the people around you — work for you and not against you.
It’s easy to think that expressing a difficult emotion isn’t going to end well. The first time I ever expressed jealousy to my partner she felt loved and I felt surprised. I’d been scared to express a rare moment of jealousy that I had in case she felt upset or judged. It was eating me up inside for some reason that day, all day I’d been having a running debate with myself whether to bring it up with her and to express how I felt or not that night when we would be together.
By chance she brought up a similar subject that night and I decided to tell her about my moment of jealousy earlier on that day. She laughed at first and we joked about it, then she told me how loved she felt and how she’d been waiting for a long time for me to express jealousy; that it made her feel really loved.
The complete opposite to what I thought would happen if I expressed a difficult emotion happened: My partner felt loved and we had a fun time talking about it. That was a surprise and a revelation to me that changed how I viewed difficult emotions.
Difficult emotions such as jealousy or anger don’t necessarily have to be a negative, they can be turned into a positive depending on how you express them and how the other person reacts.
All the difficult emotions
Fear, jealousy, anger, loneliness, longing, pain, desire, depression, sadness, boredom, contempt, grief. These are the main difficult emotions and emotional experiences we face in life. We usually associate them with being bad but really every difficult emotion can be turned around and we can work with all of them in our romantic relationship and other relationships like friendships or family.
No emotion in itself is bad, but some are more challenging than others. For example fear in itself isn’t bad as it’s the way our bodies prepare themselves to protect us from danger. Yet when it stops us from expressing what we need to express or from taking the actions we need to take then it becomes a problem.
To make your emotions work for you; you have to learn how to embrace them and the emotions of the people around you. To learn how to use all emotions to your advantage.
Be cool about it, give it space
To have healthy relationships with your family, friends, and partner, you’re going to have to get cool with emotions. What I mean by this is you’re going to have to expect that the people you love and interact with will be feeling the full range of human emotions: That all of us face difficult emotions every day. And that you aren’t different: You will have a range of difficult emotions you will face every day too.
You need to get comfortable with letting your partner and others express their emotions to you without reacting to them in a negative way.
You also need to get comfortable in expressing your own emotions healthily and letting your partner and others comfort you.
The key to managing difficult emotions is to give them space to be expressed; to turn to others when you need comfort as well as let others turn to you when they need comfort. The good thing about this is that with repeated practise you can learn to do this effectively.
How you express it is key
My partner was thankfully really cool about it when I had a moment of jealousy but it could have easily turned into an argument if I’d have expressed my emotions in a negative way and/or if she’d have responded negatively. But it did go well and here’s the secret to why:
How you express your emotions has a huge impact on how the other person will respond to you.
It’s healthy to express your emotions in a relationship as long as you do it in a way that isn’t constantly critical of your partner. The key to this is to refer to yourself and how the situation makes you feel rather than making it about them and what they are doing wrong.
Take for example a situation where your partner is staying out late with friends too much. Instead of telling them that they are neglecting you and you are mad at them — which will almost certainly lead to a fight or them getting defensive — you can tell them that you are feeling really lonely and you need more time together. As you can see when you express your real emotion (loneliness) instead of the emotion it might cause (anger at your partner for being out so much) it will lead to a much better outcome.
You also should always try to start a conversation positively when you’re about to express difficult emotions. Almost all conversations that start on a negative end on a negative too. Starting on a positive helps ease your partner into your emotions gently instead of overloading them all at once and getting their backs up. Try never to rush when you are about to lead into expressing difficult emotions. Going slow will give your partner time to see things from your perspective (instead of expressing everything you feel right away and causing them to launch into a defence.)
How to hold space for other’s emotions
Equally important in our relationships is to hold space for the difficult emotions of our partners, friends, loved ones, and others in need of being heard. The starting point to this is making sure you are centred and emotionally stable. You need to make sure you’ve had your needs met; that you had enough sleep, food, water, and time to yourself.
Next you want to truly pay attention and listen to your partner. Don’t listen to respond, but listen to understand. What your partner really needs to help them manage their difficult emotions is for them to feel understood. You can do this by asking clarifying questions and showing empathy and care such as: “That must be really difficult for you, what is the hardest part about it?” or “I’m so sorry you’re facing this, tell me more about how you’re feeling, I want to understand more…”
Another important part of holding space for someone is to not try and fix their difficult emotions all the time (unless there’s a clear way to improve the situation, or if you’ve been asked for help.) The last thing someone wants when they are afraid, grieving or sad is to have anyone try to make them feel instantly better — it’s also very unrealistic. It can be invalidating to their pain to do so. Instead the most comforting thing you can do is to be a caring warm empathetic presence for the other person who is going through difficult emotions.
Being there for a person when they are experiencing difficult emotions cements bonds. It helps to relieve their suffering and in turn makes them much more likely to treat you with kindness, love, and care when you need someone to listen to — and help soothe — your difficult emotions.
Having difficult emotions is part of being alive, it happens to all of us daily. Holding space for these difficult emotions inside of yourself, expressing them to safe caring people to be soothed, and holding space for other’s experiencing them, helps turn them into a positive, and enriches your life. Embrace your difficult emotions, and the difficult emotions of others and make them work for you not against you.