How Negative Emotions Influence Relationships

  • Barbara Eruo

 

Throughout the day, people spend every waking minute thinking about what’s going on within them and around them.

Thousands of thoughts passing through our heads – some lasting barely a second, others lingering on our minds. Oddly enough, research has found that up to 80% of our daily thoughts are negative. People spend a lot of their time thinking about negative situations and events that have happened in their lives, often replaying the same scenes over and over.

It seems that we reflect on our negative experiences a lot, trying to make the experience come out in a different and better way. You think, “Maybe if I tried to do this instead, maybe I wouldn’t have had to…?” But no matter what new ways you come up with, you will never be able to change how things happened. It’s a bit of a conundrum: people hold on to their pain in an effort to move past it (1).

Anxiety is this feeling that makes you feel uneasy or uncomfortable. It comes from the things you went through in your past, experiences that you didn’t quite overcome. Unfortunately, anxiety can interfere with the quality of your relationships with other people. It can make you suspicious of other people’s intentions and make you wary in your interactions.

For some people, anxiety can cause you to worry that you will be rejected by other people without even having yet talked to them. This prevents some people from trying to meet new people or building up their existing relationships with friends (2).

What Do the Scientists Say About This?

In a 2019 article published in the journal Science Advance, results showed that negative emotions such as anxiety can make it harder for people to trust others, even when these emotions were caused by something unrelated to the person. The study looked at incidental emotions, in specific anxious emotions, influenced a person’s decision to trust other people.

The researchers referred to certain emotions as “incidental,” meaning that they were triggered by events that were completely separate from the social interaction through which the person was currently experiencing. In addition, they observed the neural pathways involved in this judgment and searched for any interconnectivity (3).

To look at the connection between mood and trust behavior, the researchers used the threat-of-shock method to induce a feeling of anticipatory anxiety in the participants.

Using the shock method, participants were made aware that there was a possibility of randomly receiving an uncomfortable electrical shock. At the same time, the participants were invited to play a trust game where they had to decide on how much money they were willing to invest in a stranger. The stranger, in turn, had the choice of repaying the donor or keeping all the invested money to himself.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the researchers found that the temporoparietal junction (TPJ) in the participants’ brains showed a significant decrease in activity when the participants felt threatened. The TPJ is a brain region involved in how the brain organizes and perceives the information it picks up from its environment. It is believed that the TPJ helps us try to understand other people’s intentions and feelings, affecting our decision to give them our trust.

When the study members felt safe from the shocks, the TPJ region didn’t experience the reduction in activity.

If You Don't Understand, It's Harder to Trust

Another observation was that the connection between the TPJ and the amygdala – a central part of the brain’s emotional center – was significantly suppressed by the negative emotions of the affected individual. What the researchers gathered from their experiment was that the participants appeared to trust others less when they were anxious about receiving a shock. They found that negative emotions can suppress the cognitive pathways through which we try to understand other people’s behavior.

In order to reroute the negative energy, it is a good idea to develop a sense of awareness and to be conscious of your feelings.

Understand that you are feeling a certain way and, if you don’t know why, inquire into it. Did someone say something to you recently that made you get irritated in some way?

It may be helpful to focus on actually feeling the emotions rather than just thinking about them. And then ask yourself, what’s at risk if you let go of your pain?

In addition, you can try talking it out with other people to gain perspective on the situation causing you issues (3). Try different methods to see what works best for you. You don’t want negative feelings to completely get in the way of how you interact with other people.

 

 

Sources

1. Colier, N. C. (2019). Negative thinking: A dangerous addiction. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/inviting-monkey-tea/201904/negative-thinking-dangerous-addiction

2. Exploring Your Mind. (2019). How anxiety affects your relationships with others. Retrieved from https://exploringyourmind.com/how-anxiety-affects-your-relationships-with-others/

3. University of Zurich. (2019). Negative emotions can reduce our capacity to trust. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190314101331.htm

 

 

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