Home Psychology Harvard Psychologists Say That Accepting Negative Emotions Leads To Improved Mental Health

Harvard Psychologists Say That Accepting Negative Emotions Leads To Improved Mental Health


Whoever said that negative emotions should be looked down upon is in for a very bad ride. Harvard psychologists recommend that we should never feel bad about negative emotions, as this feeling deteriorates our overall mental state a lot more than the emotion itself or the event that caused that emotion.

The truth is, every emotion is simply a response to the events that occur around us, and all emotions are equally important. So, the idea that we should never feel negative about something is terribly misleading.

In a new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, psychologists looked at almost 1400 people who, instead of judging, accepted their emotional experiences.

From the analyses, they found that people who had the habit of accepting their emotions exhibited a better psychological health, and fewer negative emotions when up against daily stressors.

The researchers focused on three studies which explored the way accepting negative emotions (opposed to rejecting them) affected our psychological health.

In the first study, the researchers wanted to see if there was indeed an improvement in the psychological health when a person accepts their negative emotions, rather than judge them and feel bad about them.

What they found was that the participants who reported to accept their negative emotions were indeed psychologically healthier. They exhibited improved psychological well-being and life satisfaction and lowered depressive and anxiety symptoms.

As the authors note, the positive impact is due to the ability to accept the emotions that are triggered by a negative situation, rather than the situation itself.

They next wanted to see how the habit of accepting negative emotions affected the psychological health and whether this acceptance leads to a decrease in negative emotions when the person is confronted with stressors. They found that people who had the habit of accepting their emotions experienced less negativity when faced with stressful situations.

Finally, they conducted a third, longitudinal study which lasted for 6 months. In this study, they observed the effects of the habit of accepting negative emotions on a longer term.

Their discovery was that people who tended to accept their emotional experiences had an improved mental health after the six-month period. Their habit of accepting emotional responses improved the way they coped emotionally with stressful situations, and this helped them to experience a lot less negative emotion throughout the day.

 “When a stressful situation causes negative emotions, accepting feelings of frustration or upset — rather than trying to pretend you’re not upset or beating yourself up for feeling this way — reduces guilt and negative self-image. Over time, this will, in turn, lead to increased psychological health,” explains David R. Topor, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Source: Harvard Health Publishing