Use what you have before having what you want
When I was training in acting conservatory, I used to hear these complaints a lot: “ I feel off today.” “I am so mad at my boss.” “My mom is driving me nuts.”
Negative feelings are part of being human. We all have bad days. There are always things that don’t go our way. There are always people who may potentially upset us.
While inexperienced actors let negative emotions take control of their performance, veterans know how to channel these emotions and turn them into power.
They pour anger, frustration, sadness into their performance and make it visceral and unforgettable. They touch their audience with their emotional core. They make negative emotions their magic fingers.
Translating this experience into real life, when negative emotions arise, we don’t have to push them away, or pretend they are not there. We writers can especially benefit from our negative emotions and turn them into our superpowers.
Negative emotions invite us on an inward journey of discovery and growth. They make us alive, strong, resilient, and vulnerable. If we channel them into writing, our work will be personal, honest, relatable, and touching. Here’s why negative emotions help us, and how we can catapult them into superpowers.
Negative emotions help you know your boundaries
If you’re an empath like me, you may find it difficult to set emotional boundaries — defined as the distinct separation of one’s own emotions from another’s. Sometimes you don’t know until your boundaries are violated. You feel bad. Then you feel bad about feeling bad. Then you start to wonder: How is this so?
“Healthy [emotional] boundaries prevent you from giving advice, blaming or accepting blame. They protect you from feeling guilty for someone else’s negative feelings or problems and taking others’ comments personally. Healthy emotional boundaries require clear internal boundaries — knowing your feelings and your responsibilities to yourself and others” (Lancer 2018).
We will feel all kinds of emotions as we embark on new journeys and dive into the unknown. You may even experience negative emotions more often than before. Acknowledge them, and find the source of these emotions. Most likely they will teach you something about yourself that you didn’t know.
Actionable takeaway for writers:
We are givers. We give value to our audience. We serve. We sometimes put others before ourselves. Take an inventory of boundary violations— what happened, what you were thinking, and how you were feeling, and what you’ll do if it happens again. You may find yourself developing interesting articles and stories from this inventory.
“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.” — Brene Brown, researcher, author, motivational speaker
Negative emotions help you accept yourself
Let’s face it. Nobody is almighty and perfect. We are all humans with flaws, yet wanting the best for ourselves and our descendants.
We set goals, try, fail, try some more, and fail some more. If you feel bad about failing, it’s very likely because you see it as a sign of “you are not enough.” The truth is, we are all inherently enough.
If you are also a high achiever, you may find it hard to accept yourself sometimes, because you’ll always think you could achieve more. When negative emotions arise on your way to achieving new goals, ask this question: “ Am I working for or against myself?”
Negative emotions are a reminder that there is only so much we can do at that point. Accept yourself, so you don’t bring any baggage onto your journey. When you use failure as feedback to make adjustments and make progress, instead of evidence to beat yourself up, you will find goals much easier to achieve, and life much enjoyable to live.
Actionable takeaway for writers:
We writers face rejections all the time, which leads to self-doubt, frustration, feeling not enough, etc. When it happens, check your expectations, and do an honest and objective evaluation of what’s working and what’s not. Instead of trying to “do better”, try to do it differently, then repeat the process of evaluation.
Remember: Negative emotions show up to remind you to accept and love yourself a little bit more. By doing that, you are building the most important relationship in the world — your relationship with yourself, and making deposits in your value bank.
“When you refuse to embrace negative emotions, you are refusing to heal the part of you that was triggered.” — Xavier Dagba
Negative emotions help you be more vulnerable
Vulnerability equals strength. When you dare to be vulnerable, you are fearless, because you are willing to face everything and anything, regardless of how painful or unpleasant they are.
Vulnerability is one of the greatest traits of leaders, as it strengthens relationships and binds people together. More importantly, vulnerability makes you real. It makes you human. And we are all drawn to real humans.
Sharing those “not so perfect” moments and feelings do not make you weak. It makes you relatable. When you are ok with not having the answer, not being correct all the time, you are creating a safe environment for yourself and others to thrive.
Actionable takeaways for writers:
Write a letter to yourself as if you are writing to your best friend. Observe how the emotions surface and breathe. Acknowledge every emotion in this letter, also gently tell yourself how you’d like to feel, so you can intentionally create them.
Heroines in stories have to go through all kinds of challenges and failures before the final win. There will be no ups without the downs.
For the same reason, we can make our work more vulnerable and relatable by acknowledging negative emotions from an unpleasant experience, and learn a lesson from it. Toxic positivity doesn’t help anyone — it only makes whoever writes it look bad.
Embracing negative emotions and put them into use has been the fuel of my acting, writing, and entrepreneurship. Acknowledge them. Pour them into your work. And see how far they can push you towards where you want to go.
For more tips and nourishment, let’s stay connected.