How do we work with ‘negative’ feelings without strengthening negative neural connections?

By Ann Weiser Cornell on May 11, 2017 in Blog, Tips

Focusing Tip #559

“If we focus too much on negative parts, won’t that strengthen the negative neural connections?”

Bhavani writes:

I have been watching a video from Rick Hansen where he says that focusing on negativity rewires/strengthens the negative neural connections in the brain. So if we focus too much on negative parts (for example, staying with something felt in the body that feels bad) won’t that strengthen the negative neural connections?

Dear Bhavani:

I agree with Rick Hansen. Repeating the same negative thoughts and feelings over and over, without doing something different, just makes them stronger and easier to fall into the next time.
The Focusing process, however, is doing something different.

Even being Self-in-Presence with our feeling states is already something really different.

When we are Self-in-Presence with our painful or challenging parts and feelings, this actually wires us for calm, compassion, and spaciousness.

The more often we can turn toward and kindly acknowledge our own reactive states – anger and anxiety for example – the more we strengthen the neural pathways for not falling into the middle of those feelings.

At the same time we are not pushing those feelings away, which keeps things stuck.

As Gene Gendlin said: “What is not felt, remains the same. When it is felt, it changes.” He meant by that, when it is felt awarely. He continues: “We think we make ourselves good by not having the feelings of our negative ways. But instead that makes them stuck, the same from year to year.”

In my upbringing I was taught never to turn toward negative feelings, but always to turn away, deny, and ignore. And many in my family and community were alcoholic.

Now difficult feelings are my friends. There is always treasure in them.

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Ann Weiser CornellView all posts by Ann Weiser Cornell


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