How to Use Negative and Uncomfortable Feelings to Your Advantage

In my last post, I wrote about how our experiences with depression are influenced by our beliefs. In this post, I will write about a former patient of mine who I initially treated for poor anger management,and how by helping him to stop overreacting to his negative and uncomfortable feelings, he was able to identify irrational beliefs he had been holding unto, and replace them with more pragmatic and healthier beliefs.

Before I get into the story, I will like to write that I see depression, as anger turned inwards, while what we typically label as poor anger management, is anger expressed outwards. (That’s a topic for another post.)
This is a story about a former patient of mine, who initially came to see me for anger management. He was angry because he felt victimized, he had recently broken up with his girlfriend and he was also angry because after five years of working as a loan officer with a national bank in town, he still hadn’t received a promotion, despite his high success rate with selling loans to new homeowners and what he described as a low default rate by his clients.
Let’s give this former patient of mine an alias, from here on out he will be referred to as Isaiah. Isaiah was truly angry about life, as far as he was concerned, he was a good guy, who had been given a bad deal. He had followed all the rules, he had gone to college (in spite of growing up poor), received a degree in accounting, yet he had struggled in finding employment in his field until he eventually found a job as a loan officer.¬† He felt that despite his success, and promises from his supervisor, he kept getting passed up for promotion, as evidenced by the number of new employees, who were routinely promoted after two years at the bank. Further, every time he attempted to get a transfer to another branch, it was denied.
Then there was his personal relationship, his girlfriend recently informed him that she was ending their relationship, citing his constant negativity as a driving wedge in between them. He then responded by punching a hole in the bedroom door, which ended up with his girlfriend becoming frightened and calling the police. This incident is what led to he and I entering into a counseling relationship, as he was court ordered to attend anger management.
When Isiah initially came in to see me, he was concerned about his job, as he was required to report any and all legal issues to his employer. He was certain that his recent legal troubles would give his supervisor leverage in further under valuing his work. Further, he had come into information that his now former girlfriend was seeing someone new, which he was deeply hurt about. In our first consultation, I suggested that he tackle the issue that posed the biggest threat to his ability to get his basic needs met, which was his dissatisfaction with his current career path.
During his work with me, one of the first things Isiah accomplished was to write an ebook, the ebook was a step by step guide on how to obtain your credit rating, with all three credit bureaus, and fix your credit before applying for a loan. Isiah’s intention was to generate significant money, he could set aside in the event he lost his primary source of income, which he accomplished.
You see, Isiah’s ability to accomplish this task had little to do with me, as a matter of fact, it was his idea. My role, was in teaching him to become more cognizant and resilient to his feelings. In becoming more cognizant of his feelings, Isiah came to the realization that he was more blessed than cursed. As a matter of fact, he was not cursed at all, instead he had come to understand his irrational beliefs that led to him placing other people in charge of his happiness and prosperity, people such as his former employer and his former girlfriend.
That’s right, I wrote, his “former employer”, this is because some months ago, I received an email from him informing me that he had opened a tax preparation service, with another partner. This was not entirely surprising, given that prior to the end of his treatment with me, he had been studying for the state CPA examination.
Regardless, by becoming more resilient to his feelings, he started making different decisions. Rather than becoming reactive and sulking because he didn’t receive a promotion, he instead gave himself a promotion by using his expertise into getting into business for himself. Rather than behaving like a spoiled child when his girlfriend ended the relationship, he was able to grieve the loss of the relationship, and make amends to her, with no genuine expectations of resuming the relationship.
In conclusion, I have attached one of many exercises I give to patients who are habitually reactive to their feelings. People surprise themselves, when they stop being reactive to uncomfortable feelings and start accepting life on life’s terms.
 Breathing Exercise:
Count one to ten, assigning a number to reach breath, then once you reach ten, count down from ten to one, while still assigning a number to reach breath.
Once finished, write down what feelings you are experiencing.

Your goal is to acknowledge these feelings without overreacting to them. So if you feel hurt, in a separate column next to your feelings of hurt, you write down what you believe has caused you to feel hurt.

This is not a solution focused exercise, but rather an exercise on awareness.

Over time with each practice of this exercise,  you will become more resilient towards even the most painful of emotions.
The belief behind this exercise is that when we are resilient towards our feelings, we are less likely to make impulsive decisions, and more likely to develop a rational plan.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of a Road 2 Resolutions PLLC, a professional counseling and life coaching practice.
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