Mini-workshop on processing difficult emotions

People love avoiding negative emotions

I originally created this mini-workshop for my startup teammates for our weekly mental health check-ins.

FYI: Steve is not real, this is just an example.

NARRATION: This will not be shared with anyone, it’s private to you. But I do encourage you, after this workshop, to communicate with the person you will write about.

Step 1

Write down something about another teammate that causes you to feel a negative emotion. If you don’t have one about a teammate, choose a family member, partner or friend.

  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Annoyance
  • Jealousy
  • Disappointment

Example: I feel anger when Steve micromanages my slide deck designs.

Step 2

Write down the story associated with that emotion.

Example: Steve is controlling and doesn’t care that he’s wasting my time with micro-adjustments that haven’t been thought through.

Acknowledge that this story is putting you below the line. It’s putting you in a state where you are responding to a threat. It is preventing you from feeling creative, curious and optimistic. Threatened states narrow our view of the world.

Step 3

Write down what you are afraid of.

Example: My fear is that Steve will always be so unpleasant to work with and I’ll spend the rest of my life fighting this controlling behavior and that’s exhausting.

Step 4

Write down what you really want.

Example: What I really want is recognition and trust that I can do my job.

Step 5

Take 100% responsibility and ownership for how you are feeling. Write down specific ways that you have put yourself in this position.

Example: I’ve really been pissing myself off and believing a lot of stories about how Steve is wrong and I am right. I have been blaming Steve for my situation and I realize that I’ve created this situation by not acknowledging what is important to me and by not setting any boundaries around getting design feedback.

Step 6

Write down additional beliefs and stories you have around why you have put yourself into this situation.

Example: I believe that dealing with this emotion of anger is my burden. The responsible thing to do is to handle it alone and not bring it up to Steve. I am the one feeling angry and the mature thing to do is to learn how to cope with it and learn how to work with Steve.

Step 7

What if the opposite of step 6 was true?

Example: What if it’s the responsible and mature thing to bring this up to Steve? What if trying to handle it internally is actually the weaker and the easier choice?

Step 8

Approach this idea from a place of Presence, a place of curiosity.

Example: Hmm, I acknowledge that Steve really cares about this presentation and that’s why he feels the impulse to make a million tweaks. He is going to present it and that’s a lot of pressure on him. How could we find a happy medium?

Summarize Step 1 - 8 to form the language you want to share with your person.

You’re not saying all the words from Step 1-8, you’re combining what you uncovered there and ordering the context slightly differently.

  1. Communicate what is important to you and why.
  2. Address your story and fear
  3. Acknowledge the point of view of the other person
  4. Communicate that you are taking 100% responsibility for how you are feeling
  5. Share how you have put yourself in this situation
  6. Provide specific concrete ways that you two can find a happy medium


There is a way to stand up for what you want while remaining open. Compromising isn’t the same as allowing yourself to be taken advantage of. Seek to find a win for all.

The bit-sized summary:

  1. Realize the negative emotion you’re feeling’
  2. Accept yourself for feeling it
  3. Be willing to feel the feeling (don’t run from it even though you’re scared of it or it’s uncomfortable)
  4. Try to shift yourself to a place of openness.

You can consciously shift your brain chemistry.