What’s Good About Negative Feelings

Guilt, rebellion, and stress. These are widely considered “negative” attitudes or emotions that hamper – rather than enhance – your performance. But seen in a different light, these “negative” feelings can actually boost your motivation and increase your level of productivity and success.

Bear with me as we dive into this counter-intuitive analysis.


Most of the time, guilt arises from our recognition that we did something “bad.” For example, we often feel guilty after we hurt someone, mess up a task or project, or take unfair advantage.

So far, that’s all normal.

The common problem with guilt, however, is not the recognition that we’ve done something “bad,” but the next step we sometimes take: we start thinking of ourselves as a “bad person.” This kind of self-talk can quickly lead to feelings of unworthiness and shame, and often to “self-punishment” in the form of:

  • Undermining our own success,
  • Abstaining from future challenges and opportunities,
  • Withdrawing from positions and rewards we’ve earned, and
  • Losing of sleep, becoming ill, and making self-sacrificial choices.

However, none of that absolutely must follow from having done something “bad.”

Instead, we can reframe what we’ve done as an allowable error, a temporary submission to burning desire, or an incident of poor judgment. Short of murder or treason, we can reasonably forgive most of our immature, unintentional, or honest mistakes because we’re fallible humans living in an imperfect world.

Instead of letting natural feelings of guilt lead to shame, we can try to channel our guilt into extra motivation to make amends for what we’ve done, and to behave better in the future.


Many of us are brought up to believe it’s flat-out wrong to resist authority. Parents too often push this idea, partly because obedient children are easier on their nerves and their daily lives, and perhaps also because that’s how they were brought up, too.

The trouble is, a certain amount of “rebellion” is normal in almost everyone, and some people have a double helping of this valuable character trait. After all, it’s “rebellion” that drives us to develop independence and self-reliance. “Rebellion” is also the source of much creativity and personal happiness.

Rather than suppress whatever rebelliousness you naturally feel, then, why not reconsider this trait as simply a normal, honest drive to live free of other people’s control?

Obviously, working your way out from under other people’s domination is a good thing. It allows you to more freely express your own thoughts and feelings, to march much closer to the beat of your own drummer, and – if you’re so inclined – even to take on a measure of leadership responsibilities rather than feel limited to following others.

In fact, a moderate amount of rebelliousness can power you to become more fully self-actualized and help make the world a better place.


Stress is another feeling that has gotten a bad rap. We all tend to strive for a stress-free life, feel trapped when we’re placed under stress, and even suffer physical maladies when our burden of stress is too heavy or lasts too long.

But stress is quite natural. It’s one way our body and mind gears up in the face of threatening events going on around us, and takes action in response. If our ancestors hadn’t learned to feel and use stress, they’d have succumbed far more often to the saber-tooth tigers lurking in the bushes around them.

In other words, stress is a positive alarm. It signals that we’re facing an important challenge or opportunity, the results of which can make a significant difference in our work and our life.

When you accept stress in this way – as a positive response to your situation – you no longer need to avoid it, nor will it inhibit your performance or debilitate your health. Suddenly, you can embrace your stress and throw yourself more fully into your response: utilizing all your skills, knowledge, and experience to identify the challenge and craft a course of action that will maximize your chances of reaching a favorable outcome.

What’s more, by fully committing to an appropriate response, you avoid wasting time and energy “worrying” about the danger, and you automatically unleash emotional energy than can carry you to higher levels of awareness and performance. In short, accepting stress as your friend can help you achieve more than you might otherwise.  

While many people regard guilt, rebellion, and stress as “negative” emotional reactions, I would argue that reframing and rethinking these powerful feelings can often convert more of your natural emotional energy into a positive force for enhanced productivity and success.

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