How To Turn Negative Emotions into a Positive

Next time you get a visit from the green eyed monster, don’t be so quick to send him packing. We look at a few ‘negative’ emotions that can actually be very positive. 

Considered undesirable and unpleasant; guilt, envy, frustration and even anger can actually be catalysts for self improvement.

“All emotions are 'feedback' and if we can see the emotion for the message it is offering us, then we will be all the better for it - emotions which can feel unpleasant are often opportunities for us to know more about ourselves and our current experience,” says Dr Joann Lukins, director of Peak Performance Psychology.


Wondering why your mate’s great news is making your stomach clench even though you’re genuinely happy for them? You might be suffering a little visit from the green eyed monster.

Envy is an emotion related to social comparison and competition with other people, explains Dr Lukins. “When we are envious, we are unhappy about the success of others or what they have and our lack of it,” she says.

Make the most of it:  Used constructively, envy can be the launching pad for goal setting and achievement – it provides us with the opportunity to pinpoint what we are 'lacking' and then gives us motivation to determine a path to achieve it for ourselves, Dr Lukins explains. “Savor that unpleasant twist in your gut for a few seconds, then sit down and say to yourself ‘ok, clearly I want that very badly for myself. I’m going to start researching the steps I need to take to get it for myself.’”

Frustration or Anger

Finding your explode button all too easy to set off? Losing it over things that usually don’t bother you? “Frustration or anger are early warning signs that we are moving out of our comfort zone, and into our over-stimulated or stressed zone,” says Rachel Clements, director at the Centre for Corporate Health.

Make the most of it: Clements says if you are getting frustrated or angry easily or often, sit down and brainstorm where stressors may be hiding, and examine ways of realistically reducing this stress. “You can also look at your perceptions and see if they need adjusting - for example, are you giving more attention to the things that cause the frustration, than the things that give you pleasure?” Clements says. If the stress causers can’t be avoided, remind yourself the situation is what it is, it needs to be done, and will be finished at a certain time.

If anger is coming from someone treating you in a way you don’t like (boss with unrealistic deadlines, or a friend that is always, always late), then feeling angry is a sign it’s time to talk it out – it is obviously important to you. 


There’s two types of guilt, says Clements; ‘real’, where the way we have behaved is not in line with our values, or it can be ‘perceived’, meaning we feel we haven’t performed to a high enough standard, but others do not feel there have been any underperformance issues. Perceived guilt often comes up in our personal life, usually when we are juggling multiple roles (the work and family life balance is a common example), and feel we are not giving enough time to one area or another, she says. “We may have felt we spoke unreasonably to someone and feel guilty about it, but the person in question hasn’t given it a second thought and considers it a non-issue,” says Clements. 

Make the most of it: Guilt can cause us to look deeper, think about our actions or behaviours and take action accordingly. “It may drive us to have a conversation or make an apology that can build or strengthen relationships and help achieve results we are after,” says Clements. If you’ve set a personal goal such as losing weight, and feel guilty after ‘breaking the diet’, the guilt can allow us to forgive ourselves for the indiscretion, refocus on our goal and get back on track. 

Melanie Hearse is a WA based freelance writer specialising in Health and Parenting. Find out more at

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