Counselor's Corner: Dangerous neighborhoods of negative emotion


Fred Cavaiani

Have you ever had someone tailgate you while you were driving or almost run you off the road while they sped past you with their horn blowing? We might use the word God at this time but not in any reverent manner. We can find ourselves feeling so angry and judgmental at times like this. It is like another side of us pops out and we can be surprised by the intensity of the anger that we feel.

Then there are resentments about other people. Someone offends you. It could be a close friend, a relative or a waiter or waitress or salesperson. You find yourself feeling treated unfairly. You start resenting this person and you can stay in that emotional state with all its anger and misery.

Did you ever invest in how you think other people should be and keep mulling over and over in your mind how this person should change and what is wrong with him or her?

One of the greatest mistakes in life is to invest in negative emotion and stay there for awhile or even a long time. People who do this, and we have all been there, are not fun to be around. Politics becomes a huge investment in negative emotion. Sometimes religion will do the same. Have you ever met a religious person who keeps bemoaning the state of the world and how terrible things are and the end times are soon coming? It becomes a caricature of religion instead of something positive which religion should be.

Negative emotion like anger, resentments and judgments of other people weaken the human personality and stop us from growing emotionally and spiritually. Anger is always a superficial reaction to something deeper where we don’t want to go. This deeper feeling can be insecurity, a feeling of powerlessness or helplessness, a hurt or sadness that needs to be felt, a feeling of intimacy and dependence upon someone else that we can be afraid to feel. Judgments and condemnations of other people are also a superficial feeling to avoid what is happening inside of us. We can condemn other people so we don’t have to look inside of us at what we need to face and experience. So often we connect with other people by putting down other people. That is not a good connection. It becomes wasted energy.

Dangerous neighborhoods of emotion keep us tense, distant from others even though we think we are connecting in our judgmental criticism of others, and can have a negative effect on our bodies. A person who is always tense will soon begin to have something physical manifest itself in their body. Headaches, pain in various places of the body, stomach aches, etc. The body needs us to be peaceful and loving in order to function well.

When we invest in negativity our relationships with other people will become superficial and shallow because we aren’t sharing with others our true selves and our true emotions. We are simply uniting with another person to condemn something or someone else. If our friendships are based on mutual criticism and condemnation of other people, places, things and institutions then we have a shallow friendship. If our friendships are based on sharing our personal journey in life with someone else and sharing our goals and ideas, our mistakes and failures, our hopes and our fears with someone else, then we have a deep friendship or relationship.

Each of us can choose to leave the dangerous neighborhood of negativity and join the intimate neighborhood of humility and honesty. This neighborhood is based on love and connections with other people. It is based on being open, loving and broken with other people.

For many years now, I have been giving many different workshops and programs. But in these programs, I do not do all the talking. I get the people attending to share something. At the end everyone feels so connected with each other because they have shared so deeply from their heart with one another. If someone starts out being negative about the problems of the world, I gently help them say what they are really feeling and as a result that person cannot dominate the program with negativity. I am amazed at the depth of people when a person can get beneath negativity and share what is going on inside of themselves.

We all need friends. We all need companions on the journey. We all need a loving experience of Someone or Something greater than ourselves who is always there for us. This loving experience is usually an experience of a loving God or philosophy or theology of life that is always positive and compassionate and uplifting. To experience this, I need to leave the dangerous neighborhood of negativity and join the wonderful neighborhood of love and compassion and gentle and kind listening to others. When my words are loving and positive I touch the better self of other people.
Each of us can make the choice to be open, broken, loving and compassionate toward ourselves and toward others. This becomes a wonderful way to live and helps us to make our corner of the world a happy and loving place with positive energy and hope. I have seen this happen so many times. Have a most happy Autumn enjoying all the beauty that will be surrounding us.


Fred Cavaiani is a licensed marriage counselor and psychologist with a private practice in Troy. He is the founder of Marriage Growth Center, a consultant for the Detroit Medical Center, and conducts numerous programs for groups throughout Southeast Michigan. His column in the Legal News runs every other Tuesday. He can be reached at 248-362-3340. His e-mail address is: and his website is