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Friend or Foe?

How much time do you spend with your friends? Do your friends have a positive or negative influence on your life? Sometimes the friends who have the most influence on our lives are not people but rather emotions. Negative "emotion friends" often include fear, guilt, and anger. We might spend a lot of time with these friends and not realize the impact. We trust our friends and believe that their guidance and feedback are valuable. Unfortunately, we may not realize that our negative emotions are our enemies disguised as our friends. Sometimes when we spend so much time around these emotions we become desensitized to them and they're hard to let go. Like a bad habit, we might have negative emotions that linger for years without us realizing the consequences. Ultimately, we need to realize that these are toxic relationships and find ways to terminate them. Of course that sounds easy but in reality is incredibly difficult to accomplish. If you're having trouble letting that negative relationship go, ask yourself, does that emotion serve a purpose or have some hidden meaning?

We can get very comfortable with our negative emotions and fight to not give them up. They may have been around so long we don't know how life would be without them. Or maybe they keep us safe and protected so we can avoid being vulnerable and exposed. Of course everyone experiences negative emotions, and at times they are necessary and productive. And there are some people whose brain chemistry prevents them from modifying their negative feelings without a little help from medication. But often our negative thoughts and feelings are within our control and can be modified or managed. Old habits can be very difficult to change, but not impossible. A complicating factor is that sometimes the people close to us prefer we stay the same since it may justify their own dysfunctional behavior. For example, if fear and anxiety have been your go-to emotions for years, these emotions may have prevented you from confronting conflict. But if you replace these emotions with positive ones and assertively and constructively deal with conflict, others may have difficulty justifying their own unhealthy behaviors. Anytime you change one cog in the wheel it changes the rotation of the entire wheel. So how can we replace our negative emotion friends with positive ones?

First, we have to decide that the negative emotions do, in fact, require replacing. That the fear, anxiety and anger have consumed and taken away too much of a life of peace and joy for too long. Changing our thinking is a good first step to changing our emotions. For instance, if we anticipate a negative outcome every time we deal with conflict, that may trigger fear and anxiety which prevents us from being assertive. However, if we approach a situation with a positive attitude, we are more likely to act assertively and get the desired results. Secondly, in the past, we may have learned to compartmentalize all of our emotions so that the people around us have no idea what we are feeling. Instead, we need to express our positive and negative feelings more of the time starting with those closest to us. When we do revisit and experience our negative emotions (and we will), we need to learn to express them and then be able to let them go. Sometimes writing out a script of what you want to say can reduce some of the fears and anxieties about expressing feelings and even practicing the conversation ahead of time can be useful. Ultimately we want to deal directly with our negative emotions so we can make room for the positive ones. Letting go of our toxic "emotion enemies" enables us to experience greater joy and connection to others.

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