Emotional Mastery: The Gifted Wisdom of Unpleasant Feelings

Rosenberg, J.R. (2016, September). Emotional Mastery: The Gifted Wisdom of Unpleasant Feelings [video file], Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EKy19WzkPxE

There are many more ways to describe negative emotional experiences than there are positive. Negative emotions can seem to last longer than positive emotions and we know that a failure to acknowledge and cope with negative emotions can be as detrimental to a person’s mental health as the feeling of being “stuck” in a negative mood. In this thought provoking Ted Talk, Psychologist Joan Rosenberg talks about the value of being able to move through challenging emotions or unpleasant feelings for gaining insight, developing self-confidence and ultimately greater resilience in life.

Rosenberg uses a formula to assist with the process; 1 Choice, 8 Feelings, 90 seconds: boldly claiming that if you can make the choice to acknowledge and move through 8 unpleasant feelings in the moment by sitting with the emotion for a mere 90 seconds, you would be well placed to handle any negative life experience. She identifies avoidance, escapism and distraction as common but over time, ineffective ways of responding to unpleasant emotions and challenges us to change our way of thinking about these by relabelling emotions like sadness, anger and frustration as unpleasant instead of negative or destructive.

From an Emotional Intelligence (EI) perspective, negative or unpleasant emotions can be an important source of information, drawing attention towards potential threats to wellbeing as well as providing vital feedback on the suitability of dominant emotions at any given moment. It is therefore important to be able to recognise and pay attention to all emotions regardless of their level of desirability.

Rosenberg’s take on emotional experiences that threaten to overwhelm the mind and body is in line with the theoretical underpinnings of Mindfulness, the practice of being fully present and aware of thoughts, emotions and sensations without becoming overly reactive to them. Studies have found practicing mindfulness to decrease levels of stress, depression and anxiety while enhancing empathy related skills, helping to focus attention, enhance mood and emotional stability. This occurs via changes in the patterns of activation in regions of the brain.

We talk about EI as being the “master of your own emotions” and Mindfulness is a powerful skill that helps to connect the mind and body in emotional experiences, thereby moving towards this goal. It is for this reason that we explore the physiological experience of overwhelming emotion in the Aristotle Foundations EI Development Program and that Mindfulness meditation theory and practice is woven throughout the Aristotle Wellbeing Development Program.