- Mental Health»
Calm The Fears That Fuel Your Negative Emotions
Authored by Marilyn L. Davis for express use at North House, 1990-2011: copyright transferred to TIERS, 2012
Registration Number: TXu1-797-964: No portion may be reprinted or copied without express permission from or acknowledgment of author
Emotions are Predictable and also Spontaneous
Emotions can be a reaction to external stimuli, like seeing a snake and getting scared; other emotions happen when you internally reflect on your actions, such as guilt.
Some emotional responses or reactions take us by surprise. You are riding with a friend down a country road admiring the changing season, listening to the birds as they fly south and glad that it is still warm enough for the top down.
You round the corner, and a tree limb falls on the road up ahead.
The driver hits the brakes and averts an accident. While you are relieved, you are also experiencing a pounding heart, anxiety, and fear; just a predictable reaction to a crisis.
Emotions Have Weight
When we speak of feelings, we often assign a weight or attribute to them that defines if they are light or cumbersome. For instance:
- Joy, happiness, and serenity feel light, airy, and pleasant
- Anger, jealousy, and guilt, on the other hand, may feel heavy, burdensome, or stifling
- Guilt may create heaviness around your heart
The heavier an emotion, the more it registers, so there may be the illusion that you are only feeling one thing. Some emotions weigh so heavily upon us, that we do not realize that there is fear underneath the weightier emotion. Nevertheless, if you look below the surface of your initial feeling, you may find fear. The next time that you experience an adverse emotion stop and ask yourself, "What is my fear underneath this emotion?"
Negative Emotions in Early Recovery
Often people are surprised at the number or degree of negative feelings that they are having in their early recovery. They may be experiencing gratitude and appreciation for getting out the vicious cycle of use, but they start experiencing more negative feelings than just the customary anger that they acknowledged in their addiction.
Some people get so overwhelmed or weighed down with all of these conflicting feelings that they choose to relapse over them. The next time that you experience an adverse emotion stop and ask yourself, "What is my fear underneath this emotion?"
Rather than relapse, look at the negative emotions and associated fears. What are some predictable negative emotions that a person in early recovery might experience?
Was the table of Common Negative Emotions helpful to you?
You may not experience all of the emotions listed above. However, when you take the time to evaluate your own personal negative emotions, and then isolate the fear underneath the emotion, you are beginning to find ways to regulate or deal with these feelings.
Learning to control or manage your negative emotions is going to help you immensely in your recovery, but just as importantly, it will improve your overall mental health.
Regulating and Managing Negative Emotions: Cornerstone of Recovery
“One of the cornerstones of alcoholism recovery is what’s called “emotional sobriety.” The idea is that alcoholics and other addicts, if they hope to stay sober over the long haul, must learn to regulate the negative feelings that can lead to discomfort, craving and—ultimately—relapse.
It’s a lifelong project, a whole new way of thinking about life’s travails” ~Wray Herbert, from his book, On Second Thought
Isolating the Fear underneath the Negative Emotion
To separate the fear underneath your other negative emotions, just write down your individual list of negative emotions, and then write out your fear statement. For instance, you know that you are feeling “abandoned” by your using friends and "alone" and "apart" from the new people in recovery.
If you isolate the fear in these negative emotions, it can be as straightforward as “I’m afraid I will never have any real friends again.”
You also realize that attending groups, or recovery support meetings means that you are meeting and interacting with an entirely new group of people. You are starting to have a social life that does not revolve around drugs and alcohol, so you know that the fear of not having any friends is probably not accurate. Looking beneath your negative emotions, can help you isolate and identify any fear you have.
Sometimes One Emotion Leads to Self-discovery about another Emotion
You discover that your fear is not about abandonment, or feeling alone, or apart from, so what is potentially your fear. You might decide it is more about your "insecurity", and being afraid that you will not fit in with this group of people in recovery.
Don’t Judge Your Negative Emotions or Fears underneath Them
Sometimes people trap themselves as they are isolating their individual concerns because they decide that their reasons for fear is senseless, meaningless, or foolish.
Others become concerned about the value of their fears as it relates to others.
Do not do that to yourself. When you are isolating your individual fears; they are yours. Do not let others determine the value or worth of your feelings, so do not edit or minimized them. If you have a fear, look at it and determine if it is legitimate.
Will this Hub help you identify your fears beneath your other negative emotions?
Deciding if the Fear is Real
If you find more emotions that are negative beneath your initial feeling, ask yourself if they are legitimate as well. Isolate the fear, acknowledge it, and ask yourself, “Is this a genuine fear?”
For example, you have an important meeting or job interview. You know that the presentation at the meeting may earn you the respect of your peers, but you are sad that they do not typically seek your opinion.
While you are excited about the prospect of a new job, you have underlying fears. You were irresponsible in your previous job, and the consequence of those actions got you fired; now you are fearful that your reference will be less than good.
When you think about the event or the job interview, you become nervous, anxious, and fearful. What are the reasons for these fears?
1) You could be afraid that you will not present well.
a) Inept, lacking ability, and fear of appearing clumsy
2) You could be afraid that you are not going to get a job.
a) Insecurity, fear of rejection, and economic fears
3) You could be afraid that someone else will be better qualified for the job.
a) Being incompetent, fear of being less than and fear of rejection
Stop and Examine these Underlying Fears
1) Are your presentation materials concise, engaging, and informative?
- Then you can feel some confidence in a presentation well done.
(2) Are you qualified for the job?
- Just this one piece of information can reduce, dispel or regulate the fear.
(3) Have you done enough preparation for the interview?
- Being prepared means that you are ready for this interview; give yourself credit.
So, What Do I Do with all this Fear?
Everyone in recovery has had bouts of fear, and unfortunately, some people have relapsed over their fears.
Because relapse is so difficult and stressful, finding alternative solutions to dealing with your fears will not only help your recovery, but your overall mental health as well.
According to Charles and her colleagues in the journal Psychological Science, studies show that mental health outcomes aren’t only affected by major life events — they also bear the impact of seemingly minor emotional experiences.
The study suggests that the chronic nature of these negative emotions in response to daily stress can take a toll on long-term mental health.
Responding Not Reacting
When you personalize your negative emotions and your unique fear underneath them, you are actually beginning to be proactive in your approach to dealing with your negative emotions and the underlying fears.
It can help you identify the predictable stress, either situations or people and you can plan to respond to these situations, people or feelings in a more positive manner rather than reacting to situations or people.
You may also discover that there is an underlying pattern to your fears, and this can help you recognize your fear more quickly when you have a negative emotion. .
© 2013 Marilyn L Davis