Afflictive Emotions: The Weight That Holds Back Happiness

Afflictive or negative emotions cannot be stifled or cornered as if they didn’t exist. Accepting their presence allows us to understand what they want to tell us.
Afflictive emotions: the weight that holds back happiness

Afflictive, or negative, emotions are part of our emotional baggage, but they can act as a ballast that prevents us from growing. They occupy our minds with dark and not very useful thoughts, making us deviate towards a dangerous despondency. Naming these moods and depriving them of power helps us move forward with greater balance.

Envy, frustration, anger, resentment, guilt, disappointment … Who does not know these emotional states, what it feels like to live with them and how much space can they occupy if we feed them? Afflictive emotions are evil tendrils that grow in the darkest areas of our soul, as James Gross, a psychologist at Stanford University and an expert in emotion management , defines them.

Tendrils are those organs of climbing plants that cling to everything that grows around them. The more power we give to these emotional states, says the American psychologist, the more tendrils will grow around us, immobilizing us. It is obvious that it is not easy to get rid of bad tendrils, and it is not enough to tear them off.

Negative emotions stop growing when we stop feeding them. It works like this. Succeeding, learning to move through this inner process requires self-regulation.

Afflictive emotions are like bad tendrils

Afflictive emotions occupy an important place in our life

With reference to emotional psychology, it is common to attribute a negative, almost pathological role to afflictive emotions. There is therefore no shortage of self-help articles or books that guide us on how to eliminate or eradicate these states. However, this is not a completely correct idea.

As we have said, these dimensions are part of our emotional register. We cannot simply tear out bad tendrils if the same earth, in its provident diversity, feeds every kind of plant. In this way, elementary dimensions such as sadness, fear, disappointment or anger are part of who we are, therefore they are not eradicable. We cannot deny those aspects that so intimately define our essence. 

The solution lies in two basic mechanisms: understanding and regulating. Knowing that emotion exists, giving it a name, understanding it and managing it is the best we can do to regulate our psychic world.

Sleeping Beauty Witch

The witch who had a right to be invited

Sleeping Beauty is one of the best known fairy tales. In the traditional version, the king and queen organize a party to celebrate the birth of their baby girl. Thirteen wise men live in the kingdom, thirteen women endowed with magical arts and great power. The sovereigns choose, however, to invite only twelve to the reception. The thirteenth has, in fact, an irascible and temperamental character.

For the latter the invitation does not start and no one in the kingdom suspects that the fairy will be hurt. Instead, she, an expert in black magic, is offended and reacts by launching the curse that we all know well. One of the morals of this classic fable is that it is easy to live with good fairies, with twelve amiable, optimistic and cheerful ladies who have always received special treatment. 

Thus, inviting the darkest witch to the table, giving this complicated figure a chair too, would have been an act of inclusion and responsibility. This is what we often do with our negative emotions: we deny them, as if they have no right to exist. The result of this choice is almost always to our detriment.

We forget that emotions, good or bad, are simply invited. Some visit us, others leave. Sometimes the less pleasant ones arrive, but we are still forced to receive them, to live with them. Of course, without giving them too much power and without allowing them to stay long.

Controlling afflictive emotions as the key to well-being

Emotions must have an adaptive value, that is, they must facilitate our adaptation to everyday situations. Studies such as the one conducted at the University of Maryland, for example, remind us that the ability to regulate emotions allows us to move effectively in any context.

Woman surrounded by clouds

It is therefore advisable to learn to manage these complex internal dimensions well. Living with them without denying them or erasing them from our emotional register is the secret of well-being. Let’s see how it’s done.

  • Negative emotions often appear with a somatic marker: physical pain, malaise ... Learn to identify them. Also learn to distinguish the background noise generated by the negative thoughts that accompany them.
  • Understand why they emerged and what they mean.
  • Take your time: move with these emotions in a relaxed way. Meditation can help.
  • Channel and express. Talk to someone, use therapeutic writing, play sports to release tension.
  • Look for a strategy to solve the problem. Do not leave the malaise you feel today for tomorrow, be proactive towards your emotions.

Finally, don’t forget the most important piece of advice: afflictive emotions are mere guests. As they arrive, many will leave. We do not leave a fixed room for those who, in a short time, could take over the whole house.

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