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PsychNotes October 2016

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October 17, 2016       

Difference Between Dealing With Emotions and Being Stuck in Negative Emotions

by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.
two people having a conversation

When a person is grieving, has been hurt or traumatized, talking about the emotions can be helpful. When someone has never told their story from the past they may need to talk so as to process what happened to them. It is helpful to have an outside perspective.

However, it is possible to talk too much about negative emotions. If talking is a good thing, why can it be harmful to share emotions too much? The reason is because telling the story with the same emotional content reinforces the same negative emotional pathway in the brain. When the pathway is reinforced it is easily triggered and can become an automatic and frequent response. When this occurs a person may become stuck in the negativity. The same can be true of writing or journaling about emotions.

How can you know when talking or writing about emotional experiences is helpful and when it is not? At least one of the following should occur when it is beneficial:

1) Do you feel better after the emotional release? Even though the emotions may have been intense during the sharing, do you feel calmer or like a weight has been lifted?

2) Did you learn something from talking or writing about the emotional situation? Did you get a different perspective?

3) Are you able to put some positive strategy into practice after talking or writing about the problem?

4) When you tell the story again and again does it begin to change? Instead of primarily negative emotions, are there also coping emotions and positive emotions?


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