How to Cope with Negative Emotions on Your Own Terms

Written by Dr. Perry, PhD
Image Credit: Pixabay

Every day we have plenty of opportunities to get angry, stressed or offended. But what you’re doing when you indulge these negative emotions is giving something outside yourself power over your happiness.” ~ Joel Osteen

I am a mental health professional but I am also human and I like you experience a wide range of emotions. I am not a superhero with an impenetrable shield that causes all negative feelings to bounce off my chest. These emotions do penetrate my inner core but I have learned to set aside my personal hardships in order to properly guide my patients. There is a sanctity in the therapy room and the responsibility of helping others gain insight through what is often, difficult inner exploration must be respected above everything else.

In the therapy room, I cannot allow any personal hardships that I may be experiencing to contaminate the process. In the room, I am a conduit for my patients to help them access parts of themselves that lay hidden. I must be able to set aside any emotional pain I may be experiencing when I sit with my patients. I have learned to consciously compartmentalize my personal emotional life in order to continue to function in my work life. In a sense, I am separating my home from my work.

This form of healthy compartmentalization is not to be confused with the defense mechanism of compartmentalization. As a defense mechanism, it is a way our minds learn to deal with conflicting points of view that we may simultaneously believe. Holding irreconcilable beliefs may lead to cognitive dissonance that may manifest itself in a number of ways including depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses.

Compartmentalization is healthy as long as you are fully aware that you are deciding to separate different aspects of your life and to process them independent of each other. For example, choosing not to emotionally invest in something that is not within your control is a healthy choice as long as it is done with awareness and you find an outlet to work through the feelings you may be experiencing.

Here are the steps that I have found useful for healthy compartmentalization of negative emotions.

1. Acknowledge
Identify what conflicting emotions you need to separate from your daily life. It is important to have awareness of how these emotions may impact your life if left unchecked. For instance, if you are getting a divorce you may feel angry and scared. You need to acknowledge the impact these emotions would have on other areas of your life if left unrestrained. You will want to keep these feelings separated from your interaction with your children and your workplace. Be aware of the consequences if compartmentalization of these emotions is not done.

2. Acceptance
Although difficult, if you are experiencing hardship or emotional turmoil that is out of your control, it is important to accept how you feel about the situation. For example, if a loved one is ill you may need to accept that you are feeling anger and sadness that is beyond your control. Accept how you are feeling without shame or guilt.

3. Be present
When it is appropriate, allow yourself to be completely present with the uncomfortable emotions. Focus on how you are feeling and embrace the discomfort. Express what you are feeling. If you feel like crying then cry. If you feel like yelling then yell. It is important that you allow yourself to feel everything. Set aside the time and space to process these emotions in a safe manner. If you have a loved one to talk to, allow them to help you by listening and validating your feelings.

4. Reframe your pain
Make a conscious decision to reframe the emotional pain you are experiencing. This is difficult but try to find something positive in what you are feeling. For example, instead of becoming paralyzed over the realization that a loved one has a terminal illness, focus on the realization that life is a gift that does not last forever. By acknowledging that death exists you can experience an even greater love for life. In this case, it is important to spend as much time with your loved one, strengthening your connection through mutual love and compassion.

We do not always have the luxury of allowing ourselves to get lost in our emotions. Life’s obligations such as work and taking care of our families do not allow us to freeze and get swallowed up by an emotional tidal wave. In some ways, this is a positive. Life is to be lived and its force compels us to keep moving. By learning to consciously compartmentalize some of these emotions you can manage your life more efficiently.

Thank you for taking a moment to visit my blog. I hope you enjoyed this post. I would like to hear how you use compartmentalization in your life.

The opinions expressed on my blog are solely my own. My posts are meant to educate as well as motivate, inspire and uplift.

If you would like to schedule a free 20-minute initial consultation to see if we would be a good fit to work together on your mental health please click here.

Dr. Perry

Educational Credentials:
Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology
M.A. in Clinical Psychology
B.A. in Psychology
“We specialize in a solution-focused approach to psychotherapy, specifically treating depression, anxiety, relationship issues, and narcissistic abuse.”
Verified by Psychology Today
“Reframe Your Pain is a closed Facebook group bringing together those who have suffered from or who are suffering from personal challenges that would benefit from connecting and sharing with others who have had similar experiences.”
Presented by Dr. Perry, PhD

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112 responses to How to Cope with Negative Emotions on Your Own Terms

  1. William S. says:

    I always look forward to receiving the email notification of one of your new post. Thank you for an insightful post. I will try the steps you recommend.

    Liked by 6 people

  2. Mrs. M says:

    I love your description of “the sanctity of therapy” I don’t know exactly how therapy works but I am one that has received the benefits. You are a special soul Dr. Perry. I cannot imagine how it must feel to help others deal with their emotional issues while having your own life. Blessings to you.

    Liked by 6 people

  3. Carlene W. says:

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time. For me, whilst I’m known to wear my heart on the outside of my body, my emotions are never a wonder to others, keeping my emotions in check are easier than many think. I can cry at the drop of a pin, but know that everything I see,hear and experience only help to make me stronger, wiser and more empathetic to others. As much as I would like to explore the ramifications of a family member’s choices, poor at best, it will serve no purpose for me to rant and rave. I keep those emotions in check and slowly and cautiously bring them out, always in love, to reach out as a way to offer hope and help. To encourage,more than discourage. She already faces enough discouragement and too many opinions of what a thoughtless decision she made. And while those feelings are in one compartment, the other compartment of a mother’s love works to guide her on the best path. I’ve learned our words have power. I want my words to help and heal, not damage and destroy.

    Liked by 10 people

  4. Monaminga says:

    Thank you for sharing this, It does make things easier to embrace the feelings whether they are negative or positive and let them grow and die. I once read that an emotion is like a wave, it starts small, grows gradually, reaches a pic and then slowly dies. I think it’s accurate. Oftentimes, we block the prossess and the emotion doesn’t terminate it’s “life”, the consequence is that it comes back on the next occasion, on an on again.

    Liked by 6 people

  5. Karen says:

    Perfectly timed (as always). #4 is vital and goes along with perspective shifts I speak about. We can all benefit from these tips, especially reframing. I always look forward to your posts—your insight never disappoints!

    Liked by 5 people

  6. When life is tough, as it sometimes is, before I put my key in the lock at my work place I visualize leaving all my burdens in a sack outside the door. I drop the sack there. Sometimes I retrieve it on my way out to go home. Other times I am blessed to receive insight from people I work with, although they are unaware that their chance comment or action has set off an “aha” moment for me. I have to compartmentalize for my own sanity. I am grateful for the ability to do so.

    Thank you for this post, and for your continued gifts of empathy, compassion, and wise insights. You truly are making a big difference in the lives of all of those people who read your blog. Another great post!

    Liked by 8 people

    • Dr. Perry says:

      Thank you Carol! The way you use compartmentalization is a perfect and healthy illustration of how to momentarily set aside our difficult emotion. I appreciate the time you take to read and share your insight✨

      Liked by 3 people

  7. Rayne says:

    I found this post very informative and helpful, thanks so much for sharing it. “if you are experiencing hardship or emotional turmoil that is out of your control, it is important to accept how you feel about the situation.” I really needed this especially. I’m in the habit of judging myself for how I feel about situations. It seems that this piece of advice will really help alleviate some of the suffering I experience with regards to this.

    Liked by 5 people

  8. Good advice! “For example, instead of becoming paralyzed over the realization that a loved one has a terminal illness, focus on the realization that life is a gift that does not last forever.”

    Liked by 5 people

  9. aquis says:

    Love the way you simplify the information so everyone can benefit from it, which shows how you truly want to help people with their struggles instead of sounding ‘academic’ etc. Also, love that you match your posts with such great quotes. Thank you for your inspiring work 👏🏻😊

    Liked by 3 people

    • Dr. Perry says:

      Thank you! I find we all have a common language which is emotion. We all experience emotional struggles to some degree. It is important to me to not complicate my thoughts by using academic jargon✨

      Liked by 3 people

  10. I agree with the above comment. I was pleasantly surprised to see you begin your post with a Joel Osteen quote. I listen to his messages all the time on SiriusXM radio and have learned a lot about being positive and understanding my value as a person. Thank you for your post and for sharing your knowledge and expertise freely. You are doing a great service for many people, myself included, and I appreciate you.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Dr. Perry says:

      Thank you so much! I agree Joel Osteen is a wonderful positive person with a great message✨

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Another great post ! I was doing this unconsciously when dealing with my wife being an end-stage alcoholic. I doubt I would have been able to function in the work place if I did not compartmentalize home and work worlds. But eventually the body gives out

    Liked by 4 people

  12. Isha Garg says:

    “Life is to be lived and its force compels us to keep moving.”
    So true, Dr. Perry – how simply and effectively you state it. Brushing the negative emotions under the carpet doesn’t do, one has to “be present” as you say, and let it unfold as it must to be rid of it in the long run. Your words are truly helpful. Thanks so much!

    Liked by 3 people

  13. JR says:

    I swear, Dr. Perry, your posts always show up when I need them most! Am going through some stuff right now, which is anxiety-inducing, but should be manageable. And your post was already a helpful reminder to take it easy. I think I was subconsciously using some compartmentalization, because I’m back to waking up anxious in the morning, but over the summer I’d tell myself that these are just morning terrors, and they’d disappear within the hour when my body and mind have had the time to adjust to being awake.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Thank you for this encouraging post–It is like having coffee with a good friend–So helpful and warm and comforting…good for the mind and soul, and goes down easy. And how you break down the process of compartmentalizing our work and personal life into simple steps–that’s so good!

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Carrie says:

    I needed to read this today. Thank you so much Dr. Perry. I love your blog, It’s insightful and your caring nature comes through in your writing ❤️

    Liked by 3 people

  16. JanBeek says:

    Greetings Dr. Perry, I am not one of those bloggers who is making a cheap attempt to peddle my lemonade on your lawn! Hah! That’s a quote from a blog teacher/coach that resonated with me. So did this blog of yours. I gave serious thought to this idea of compartmentalizations and acceptance. I read your blog right after posting one on my site about “Fettuccine Fantasies.” I compartmentalize my food groups and declare myself free of candy addictions – as if my carb addiction is healthier. Hah! Acceptance was one of your points. I pondered your ideas and decided I need to accept responsibility for my own self sabotage. Yup, I bet your counseling would be extremely healthy. Wish we lived closer! I’ll have to follow your blog and glean ideas more often from your shared wisdom! Thanks for visiting JanBeek. I’ll be back!

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Lex says:

    Beautiful post. You must be such a caring therapist Dr. Perry! Your blog is the best! Have a great week!

    Liked by 3 people

  18. elenaglife says:

    This is the first time reading your blog. What a gift. I love the transformation of your thoughts into writing. Thank you for the insight, and different perspective Dr. Perry. I will definitely be back for more. Thanks for sharing my friend

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Very helpful post. Like you say negative emotions are a part of us and should not be u healthily repressed but there is also an unhealthy preoccupation with them, I suppose, and your advice about conscious compartmentalising, or ‘bracketing’ as I’ve also heard it named, was very helpful. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Angie says:

    Hi Dr. Perry, I am a long time follower but first time commenter. I am a nurse and find that some of the hardest shifts are when I have some personal things going on that I can’t get out of my head. I really appreciate this post. It makes me feel like I am not the only one who has a hard time compartmentalizing my life. I love this post. I’ll probably go back to being a silent follower but I just wanted to tell you that you are appreciated very much. I read everything you post. Thank you for all you do. -Ang

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dr. Perry says:

      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I love to hear from my readers. I am pleased to hear this post resonated with you and has helped you in some way. I wish you well and encourage you to comment again in the future✨

      Liked by 2 people

  21. Nina says:

    “Reframe your pain” what a wonderful point. I am trying to implement this in my life. This post is great!

    Liked by 2 people

  22. Felix says:

    Thank you for this post Dr. Perry. I love and respect how you describe the therapy room. You have been given a gift to help others and I wish you well.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. dawnbirdau says:

    If someone has healthy boundaries, “healthy compartmentalization” is not difficult to do and can be enhanced through practice. I’ve been able to achieve this through mindfulness. When I’m working with someone I’m able to switch off all else and be in the present with that person. I’m not sure anymore whether this is practiced compartmentalization or mindfulness! Enjoyed reading the post.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. Dr. Perry, this one is very handy for something that we are going through at the moment. I am now in a hospital room, with my sister who had a failed pregnancy. The “reframing” helped.

    Compartmentalization is something that I have to do often, this is also very handy in my field – Human Resources.

    Thank you for your posts. I always look forward to reading them.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. Thank you for this post, Dr. Perry. I think it’s really important to talk about how deal with negative emotions, especially how to reframe our pain into a learning experience that we can grow from. Negative emotions serve a vital purpose, so there is absolutely no need to ignore them or shun them as something “wrong”. Awareness, acceptance, understanding, and learning/growth — that’s the way I look at it too. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Brittney says:

    I loved this! Great article Dr. Perry. Thank you for sharing. I especially loved that you said, “It is important that you allow yourself to feel everything.” I completely agree. Great encouragement when emotions can sometimes be very uncomfortable.
    P.S. Thanks for liking my post about helping children in their emotions!

    Liked by 2 people

  27. Anonymous says:

    I’m so glad that WordPress suggested your post to me today! I’ve recently been diagnosed with multiple health issues, and since I am a full-time student as well, it’s been difficult finding the time to simply sit down and deal with how I am feeling. This step-by-step chart I hope will help me with the coping process. Thank you so much for your help!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dr. Perry says:

      Welcome to my blog. I hope this space provide you with support and encouragement. I wish you well✨

      Liked by 2 people

  28. d@r$h@n@ says:

    Ur post is truely helpful for all out there who doesn’t acknowledge how much mental health is important and can be balanced.. Ty Dr. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  29. Thank you for sharing Dr. Perry. After years of suppressing uncomfortable emotions, I’ve only recently been practicing emotional awareness, acceptance, mindfulness and being present, and positive reframing. Even though the uncomfortable emotions do not disappear, I definitely recognized improvements in my motivation and mentality.

    I realized that emotions, both positive and negative, exist as an indicator, and without acknowledgment, we won’t be able to make the changes we need. I’ve recently started writing my own blog on my experiences and find it both therapeutic and self-reflective in untangling my negative emotions. This post put perfectly into words how I’ve navigated through my own personal journey, and I can see how the breakdown into steps will help many others.


    Liked by 2 people

    • Additionally, I think the recent focus and desire for only positive emotions, like how to ‘be happier,’ neglect our attention from managing and handling the inevitable negative emotions that come with many life’s challenges. Thank you for bringing awareness that negative emotions exist and do not have to be interpreted as punitive.

      Liked by 2 people

  30. DorothyMarie says:

    I enjoyed this post and felt almost as if it were written for me. I believe I have experienced a lot of this over the past year. Mostly #3 I tend to spend time being present with my emotions. I’m a cryer. I have been told by someone that I cry more than anyone she knows. I guess I have a soft heart? I don’t know, but the crying is very healing for me. I have found a lot of things can be triggers too. Things that most people would not give a second thought to. Thanks again for a wonderful post. Dottie 🌻

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr. Perry says:

      hi Dottie 🌻 There is nothing wrong with crying especially if you find it healing. I want to take the opportunity to tell you good luck on your job interview tomorrow. Whoever ends up hiring you is going to be very lucky. Have a wonderful evening✨

      Liked by 2 people

  31. AllyNikk says:

    I have always had such a difficult time compartmentalizing my emotions and it effects my life and work on a daily basis. It keeps me from doing a lot of things. I’m trying to get back into seeing my therapist, but the appointments are over-booked 6 weeks out, so I don’t know what to do. I’ve just kind of lost the hope of getting the help I need.
    I always love your posts. xo

    Liked by 1 person

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