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Dealing with negative emotions

Francis is a brilliant 200 Level undergraduate who is shy, withdrawn and frequently looks miserable. Tunde, his roommate, finds it difficult to understand him, as he always seems to have negative emotions all the time. Despite his excellent academic grades, Francis often feels he is not really good at his studies and frequently has doubts about his abilities. He has low self-esteem, and will usually blame himself for any and everything that goes wrong.

It was only after living together for two years that Tunde realized that Francis had a baby brother who died when they were in primary school. Francis and his brother were playing in the compound when the baby brother jumped from a height and died after hitting his head on the floor. Since then, Francis believed that he was careless and responsible for his brother’s death. He has been feeling guilty about everything ever since, even though his parents encouraged and supported him at the time. Tunde knew this feeling of guilt was wrong and realized that it was affecting Francis’ life and functioning.

So when powerful and negative emotions hold us ransom, as in the case of Francis above, how do we break free? How should we handle negative emotions?

While it may appear fairly straight forward, especially when it affects others, it is quite common that you and I may have strong feelings about various situations and circumstances in our lives that make us uncomfortable and we usually just try to suppress them or we react negatively through anger. It takes some honest thinking or discussion with a therapist to identify what emotions are holding us back or weighing us down in our day to day lives.

Remember that human emotions are very powerful influences of our behaviour. Experiencing strong emotions may push us to take actions we would not have ordinarily taken; or they may compel us to avoid situations or persons which generate such strong emotions. Emotions may be considered as positive or pleasant and enjoyable if they make us feel good about ourselves. On the other hand, emotions may also be considered to be negative or unpleasant if they make us feel uncomfortable.

Negative emotions usually make us uncomfortable by affecting us in some of the following ways:

  • Dignity and self-respect: Such as when we feel ashamed, embarrassed, criticized, ridiculed, insulted, humiliated, unappreciated e.t.c.
  • Personal safety is threatened: Such as when we are attacked, afraid, insecure, intimidated, abused or violated, threatened e.t.c.
  • Integrity and truth: Such as being falsely accused, judged, stereotyped, blamed, cheated, misled, wrongly punished, lied to, e.t.c.

The first step in the handling of negative emotions is to pause and ask ourselves the question: Why am I so angry and worked up? What exactly is making me feel so humiliated? Why do I feel disrespected because he criticised my work? Why do I feel so badly cheated?

In the answers to these questions, lie the seed of examining, accepting and learning from our negative emotions.

Anger, for example, is often a consequence of fear or feeling threatened. The threat may be to our self-respect, ego or our physical safety. So firstly, we experience fear or a threat, and then our anger erupts to protect us from the threat or fear. Or we may feel powerless and become angry to help us re-assert control and influence.

Therefore, the questions to ask here are “why am I so upset and angry?” “In what way do I feel threatened by what has happened?” Thus, when we become angry, and we pause for a minute to consider the root causes of our emotional reaction (anger), we will learn a lot more about our insecurities and the situations that make us afraid or uncomfortable. This understanding helps us to stay in control of our emotions instead of erupting in anger, and we can then calmly consider the various options to handle the situation.

Feelings of guilt also follow a similar pattern. Guilt stems from internal criticism of self, where you think you have done something (or should have done something) that is against your personal conscience. So, the questions to consider are whether or not the standards of your conscience are reasonable or not. In the example of Francis above, it is certainly unreasonable to hold himself responsible for such an unfortunate accident. Secondly, if we acknowledge that we have wronged another person, admitting same and apologizing will also help to lift the feelings of guilt – regardless of whether or not the person accepted the apology.

Similarly, if you are afraid of failure, work hard to achieve success. Are you afraid of being left alone with no friends or family in the long run? Then learn to appreciate your loved ones, pay them compliments and don’t always insist that things must always go your way – i.e.be flexible.

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On another level, President Muhammadu Buhari said recently in Abuja that the Federal Government will continue to draw from the expertise, partnership and consistency learnt from the eradication of Polio in the country to strengthen the health sector.

“Nigeria has benefitted from your kind support, most particularly in the fight against Polio, with a total sum of $268 million provided by Rotary International. For this, I say thank you. In addition to support provided by Rotary International in Polio Eradication, I am also well apprised of your other health interventions focused at improving maternal, newborn and child health, infrastructural renewal of health facilities, data management to improve evidence-based decision making, and the area of improving quality of care for patients,’’ he said.

The President noted that the support Nigeria had received from multilateral and bilateral partners, including Rotary International for Sustainable Development Goals and Universal Health Coverage had been invaluable. Rotary International equally presented an award to President Buhari. “I also heartily welcome and receive the award you have given in recognition of the efforts of the administration, in collaboration with our partners, leading to the certification of Nigeria, and the entire continent as being polio-free,’’ he responded.

The President welcomed the Club’s offer of partnership with Nigeria in effective Coronavirus vaccine management and service delivery. In his remarks, the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, commended Rotary International for supporting health care programmes and improving facilities in the country. Earlier, Mehta said the historic achievement of eradicating Polio in Nigeria was made possible by the leadership of President Buhari, while highlighting the President’s foresight and diligence in taming spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. “Mr President, thank you profusely for ensuring that Nigeria became polio free. It has been possible only because of your leadership,’’ he said.

President Buhari, who received Rotary International President, Mr. Shekhar Mehta and some officials, at the State House, thanked the organization for various interventions in the health sector, particularly putting in $268 million in the fight against Polio.

Mehta said the charity organization currently had 1.2 million members in 200 countries, emphasizing that the focus of the year 2021 is on empowering girls by ensuring better health, hygiene and nutrition. The Rotary International President also said the Covid-19 threw up economic and educational challenges, assuring that the organization would continue to support Nigeria in education, including surrogate teaching, and environmental issues.

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