Do emotions have a dark side? Of course they do. But what do we mean by that?
All emotions have a “reputation”. We tend to classify emotions as positive or negative and that lines up with their reputation.
For example, joy has a good reputation. So do trust, hope, love and optimism. Which emotions have a bad reputation? Sadness, fear, guilt, disgust and anger, just to name a few. Are these emotions bad? Not necessarily, just like optimism isn’t always good (or warranted). But the reputations persist.
What the “dark side” really means
The dark side of emotions really refers to our prejudices and filters. I’m not talking about “the dark side” as being evil or wrong. In the Star Wars universe, going over to the “dark side” meant joining the forces of destruction and evil. That’s not what we mean by the “dark side” except in a playful way. However, there are real prejudices against negative emotions and usually we hold these without really examining the function or purpose of these emotions.
I’m not claiming that emotions on the dark side are fun or pleasant. Often they are neither of those, but they are real and many times they are the most genuine thing we’re experiencing.
It’s time to drop the labels and prejudices against certain emotions and start tuning into the messages that our emotions are sending. They are conveying valuable information to us. When you are depressed there is often an underlying disappointment that we haven’t addressed. Anger arises when we have a sense of injustice, so looking deeper at what emotions are signalling can be useful.
When you feel down or depressed, it can sometimes be a way for the body to send a signal to take care of it. It can also be a signal from our psyche that we are grieving or hurt. It can also be a signal for other things, so it’s important not to jump to conclusions or pre-judge an emotion.
How to lighten up
The best way to deal with the dark side is to acknowledge the dark emotions. This is a way to shine some light there instead of letting them go unrecognized and unexamined. If we light up dark emotions we won’t minimize or diminish them. We also won’t try to “spin” them into something they aren’t. We use labels all the time, but when it comes to emotions the best approach is to be conscious about what our labels are doing. This is a key part of emotional intelligence.
Acknowledge your emotions. Work to manage your emotions and control your behavior instead of letting the emotion run and control you. As leaders, it starts with us to manage ourselves and then we can help others to be more effective at managing themselves.