Express emotions constructively

Bottling up emotions can harm our physical and mental health and damage our relationships. Learn to express difficult emotions constructively.

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Why this matters

Negative emotions, like anger, fear, sadness, guilt and shame, are often difficult to express constructively.  Even positive emotions, like gratitude, love or excitement, may be difficult to express.

Each emotion, whether positive or negative, contains information you need to pay attention to. When you understand why a certain emotion comes up for you, you’re more likely to express it in a healthy and helpful way.

Learn how recognizing your reactions to Emotional triggers can help you plan how to address different situations.

Explore and reflect

Below are some examples of:

  • Emotions
  • What they may be a reaction to
  • Questions you can ask yourself
  • Sample wording for how you might express it to someone else

As you read them, think of which emotions are relevant to you and how you might express them more constructively:

Anger can be a reaction to a perceived or actual injustice.

  • Ask yourself, what do I feel is not fair and needs to be changed? Focus on what is within your control to change.
  • Express your emotion constructively by taking responsibility for it. 
    • I find this unfair because...
    • Would it be possible to approach this in another way? Here’s my suggestion...
    • How do you feel this might impact [whatever you feel might be unjust]?

Fear can be a response to a threat or danger.

  • Ask yourself, what’s the worst thing that could happen? How likely is that? How would I recover if it did happen? And what’s the best thing that could happen to me? Focus on what is probable rather than simply the worst-case scenario.
  • Express your emotion constructively by taking responsibility for it. 
    • My concern is that...
    • I’m worried about...
    • Can you help me think about how to deal with my concern of...

Sadness can be a response to a loss.

  • Ask yourself, what have I lost, or what do I fear I might lose? This can include relationships, opportunities, roles, responsibilities or dreams. Focus on what you lost, what you appreciated about it and how you can move forward by honouring what you gained from it.
  • Express your emotion constructively by taking responsibility for it. 
    • I’m feeling the loss of... today. 
    • My energy is low and my focus isn’t great because...
    • I’m working on looking forward and would appreciate your help in creating a vision for the future.

Guilt can be a response to something we feel we should have done or not done.

  • Ask yourself, what should I have done differently? Focus on either making it right now or paying it forward by helping someone else.
  • Express your emotion constructively by taking responsibility for it. 
    • I want to do... differently now and going forward
    • I’m feeling bad because I did or didn’t do... I want to set it right.
    • How can I make up for... with you?

Shame can be a response to negative self-judgment.

  • Ask yourself, what’s the story I’m making up about myself? Is it completely true, or am I holding on to past mistakes? Focus on who you are right now and how you’ve changed since you made those mistakes.
  • Express your emotion constructively by taking responsibility for it. 
    • I’m working on making my self-talk more positive and realistic.
    • Please remind me when I’m putting myself down.
    • What’s coming up for me right now is about something that happened earlier in my life, so my response may seem out of proportion to the situation.

Take action

  • Choose a positive or negative emotion that’s difficult for you to express constructively.
  • Consider what questions you could ask yourself to understand why the emotion is coming up for you.
  • How could you re-frame or refocus your attention so that you can express this emotion in a healthy way?
  • Think about the words you would use to tell someone else how you’re feeling.
  • Try applying what you’ve learned the next time this emotion comes up for you.



Contributors include.articlesDr. Joti SamraMary Ann Baynton

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