Building Personal Resilience  |  Self-Care

Getting Rid of Difficult Emotions

BY KHOO TECK PUAT HOSPITAL THRIVE

19 July 2022  |   6 min read

This article was originally published on My Mental Health on 21 January 2021.

Hatred, envy and jealousy are some of the most destructive emotions to have. They can lead us to make disastrous decisions driven by the intensity of the emotion rather than logic. For example, a person jealous of his brother’s success may choose a more stressful job that does not suit him well but pays better. After a year in the job, he quits and wishes he had stayed at the earlier job where he was more competent. Learn how to handle difficult emotions which when practiced over time will allow the emotions to have less intensity and reduce its control over you.

Understanding the nature of thoughts and emotions

Ownership of difficult emotion is one own self

When one feels a difficult emotion, it is easy to attribute it to another person who seemed to have caused it. For example, if John cheated James of money and James hates John, James may feel it was John who caused him to hate him. If the difficult emotion persists after a period of time, one must accept ownership that the continued emotional suffering is due to the person’s own self. For example, if after many years James continues to hate John, the cause of the continued emotional suffering is due to James’ handling of his own emotions. It is no longer John causing the pain. If you continue to have difficult emotions over a past incident, you must take ownership of the emotion and see that the cause of the suffering is yourself. Therefore, to get rid of the difficult emotion, one must be willing to take ownership of the thought and emotion and then change the way it is handled.

You have the freedom to choose

Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist who survived through detention in a concentration camp during the Second World War. He saw that even in the camp when people were on the way to their deaths, some chose to comfort and help their fellow campmates. He concluded that everyone, even in the harshest of conditions still retained the freedom to choose their reaction to any situation. Remember, you have the choice and it is your choice how you react to any given circumstance. You can choose to forgive a person because if you continue to hate someone, the emotional suffering is yours to have.

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.

― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Thoughts and emotions are transient

Thoughts lead to emotions and eventually to a behaviour. For example, you think a particular mobile phone is good (thought) which stirs your desire (emotion) and eventually you buy the phone (behaviour). Thoughts and emotions themselves are transient. Think of the last time you got angry but the emotion went away after a while. By remembering that thoughts and emotions are transient, when difficult thoughts or emotions arise, tell yourself that they will go away once you don’t pay attention to it. Hence, you can distract yourself and the thought and emotion will eventually go away.

Thoughts and emotions that generate negativity are empty in itself

It is important to recognize that thoughts and emotions that generate negativity are empty in nature and hold no value. They do not value add to our lives and serve only to continue our emotional suffering. Each time a thought emerges and provokes a negative emotion, take one step back and tell yourself these thoughts are empty of value.

Difficult emotions can be neutralized with antidotes

There are types of emotions which are incompatible with one another, like oil and water. One cannot in the same instance of time, hold hate and love together in consciousness.

The antidote to hatred is loving kindness. The antidote to greed, envy and desire is joy and freedom.

The antidote to anger is patience.

The antidote to pride is humility.

Hence, when a particular difficult emotion arises, we can tell ourselves it is transient, has no value in itself and you can get rid of it by thinking about its opposite emotion, the antidote. For example, if a thought enters your mind about someone you dislike, you can first acknowledge you own that thought and the emotion it created. Then, tell yourself you have a choice to be free of it or dwell in continued suffering. When you choose to be free of it, you can get rid of it using two skills. The first is to the think about how empty that thought is and useless to your life while acknowledging the thought is transient and will go away in a while. The second way is to think about someone or something you love and this will neutralize the thoughts of hate.

The following method when practiced repeatedly when a difficult emotion arises will help you to get rid of it over time. Practice this when difficult emotions arise and you find that you have control again over your mind. The difficult emotion may arise again but you can use this method over and over again. After a period of time, you will find that these negative emotions will start to lose their power over your mind.

This is republished with permission from Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) THRIVE.

It is part of Achieving Happiness in Singapore, a toolkit by the Ministry of Health and Agency for

Integrated Care under the THRIVE-ASCAT Community Mental Health Programme.