Not Identifying with Negative Emotions

Task 3

If people believed, as is the truth, that everything good and true comes from the Lord and everything evil and false comes from hell, they wouldn’t take goodness in as their own and feel they deserve a reward for it, and they wouldn’t take evil in as their own and make themselves guilty of it. Swedenborg – Divine Providence #320

Some people find it very hard to separate their feelings from their sense of who they are. Some have learned how to dissociate from their feelings to the point where they are out of touch with them. This usually happens to children when they have to cope with some extremely difficult and painful situations, such as having alcoholic parents, or being abused. Their survival may depend on being able to dissociate from their experience: “This is not happening to me.’” But later in life this distance from their own emotions can cause many problems. When they grow up, they may need therapy to help them understand their emotions.

Excellent work is being done by some therapists in helping adults get in touch with their anger. The individual is invited to hit a pillow and scream to the point where the full extent of their anger comes to the surface and can be deeply felt. In a sense they have to almost become their anger to release long repressed feelings. Once that work has been done, they can move on to this kind of task where they admit their anger, and then dissociate from it. The same holds true for other emotions.

There are times when events in our lives seem too much to bear. We can be overwhelmed with negative emotions. We might be paralyzed by fear, choked with anger or green with jealousy. In these situations it is as if our whole attention is on the emotion, and that we have little or no power to escape from it. These are the situations where the technique of “Anon-identification” can be very helpful. As the name suggests, we can become very much identified with our feelings. If so, we become snared by them.

We eventually realize that we are not our clothes or any other of our possessions, and this is important to our sense of well-being. Otherwise, we couldn’t imagine life without it. Like in the old Jack Benny joke, a mugger stuck a gun in his face and said: “Your money or your life.” No response. The mugger said it again louder. Still no reply. Finally, the mugger said: “Look Mac, I’m talking to you! Your money or your life.” Jack Benny, who was notorious for being tight with money, paused and said: “I’m thinking, I’m thinking.”

When we identify with anything, we limit our own spiritual growth. Some of our freedom is lost. We think our emotions are us, but they are not us.


If you look at the diagram of the house you will see all kinds of things in the basement. These are no more you than your furniture or your car. They are just things that enter you and they can enter through the slightest cracks. If you identify with them and say things like: “I’m angry. I’m worried. I’m a very nervous person,” and so on, then you are in the monkey trap, and these negative emotions begin to dominate your life.

What’s the answer? All we need to do is to dissociate: “These emotions are going on in me, but they are not me.”

This is also important with positive emotions on the upper levels. They aren’t you either. They come from the life that flows into you. Take the feeling of love towards your neighbor – if you identify with that love, how can you avoid the trap of conceit or selfish pride?

If we could only operate on the principle that we are vessels that receive life, and that everything flows into us, we would be truly and wonderfully free. Then we would observe the good things in us, and thank God for them. And when we became aware of some of those ugly beasts in our basement, we would not be overwhelmed. We would be aware that they are there, but they are not us!

This even applies to illness. When you say “my arthritis” or “my heart trouble,” you are somehow attaching yourself to your aches and pains. Wouldn’t it be nicer to say: “My body has arthritis, but I don’t”?

It can be hard to define exactly who and what we are as human beings. There are many aspects of our life, but these do not define who we are, just as we have many material possessions. They are nice to have, but they are not us. These physical things come and go. Most people live in at least four different houses during their lifetimes, and own a dozen or so different cars. The possessions are there for a time. We enjoy them, and we identify with them, but they are not us.

The same can be said for our passing moods and feelings. They all are an important part of our life, but we are not our possessions, we are not our bodies, we are not our feelings or our thoughts. We are more of a spiritual essence within and above all of these things, and whatever may be going on in our conscious thoughts and feelings, our true inner self is always at peace.

To lessen the hold that negative emotions can have on us, we can do this simple task, called non-identification.

When you become aware of a negative emotion in yourself say: “It is -_____ (for example angry) and I don’t have to be”, and notice the results.