Destructive emotions are simply those that cause harm to others and ourselves. While there may be varying opinions as to which can be classified as such for e.g. hatred, greed, craving, anger, jealousy, fear, delusion etc. the simple definition given will suffice. The reader may make his or her own conclusion from the experiences shared here. What is more important is to realize from the stories shared is that while there is a problem with negative emotions, there is always a solution and a way to overcome them if we put our heads and hearts together.
Over my lifetime I have had the opportunity to come across several people whose lives have been negatively affected by what I call 'Destructive Emotions'. I have found that these people are quite ordinary and normal like you and I but became victims of destructive emotions which caused them to have struggles in life.
Sometimes the problems do not arise until much later in life. Perhaps an accumulation of such negative emotions would sooner or later become a bigger problem in their life. If handled properly in its early stages, perhaps no problem would arise. If allowed unchecked and continues to flow in our bloodstream over the years, like cancer, it can become a critical illness of a major concern.
The following are some stories of my experience with individuals struggling with destructive emotions. The people and their experience are real but where appropriate, their names are not mentioned. Who they are isn't as important as to what is the cause of their suffering and what alternatives are there for them to live a happier life. That is the purpose of my sharing.
Some of my own personal stories are shared too with my own method of handling negative emotions.
The Story of 2 Students
In my last year at the University in Australia, I had the privilege of being able to help 3 new female students to settle down in their new home as part of a support effort by the Asian Students Association. I had observed that the three of them seem to adjust themselves quite well and one girl in particular was very sociable and seen in many of the Aussie BBQs and social parties or functions. When the year came to an end, like all students, we were busy with examinations. Not long after the results were out, I met two of the three girls and they told me the shocking news of their house mate being hospitalized. She was that very socially active girl and I quickly found my way to the hospital to pay her a visit.
As I walked into her room she was sitting up on her bed and began conversing with me. She seemed in a happy mood and joyfully told me she had just talked with Adolf Hitler and a few other famous men such as Gandhi and Idi Amin Dada, the former ruler of Uganda! She was obviously not of sound mind so what happened to her? Her two friends told me that due to her excessive time spent on social events during the year, she didn't prepare well for her year-end examinations and failed one or two papers. Apparently when she got to know of her failures, she showed concern over how her parents would be disappointed. This deep concern on her failure and the negative effect it may have on her parents took a toll on her when she broke down emotionally. She finally had to be sent back home due to her unstable mental condition. What a pity I felt as she was a young bright girl with a good future ahead of her, if only she had not succumbed to her negative emotions that became destructive to her life!
Many years later, I found myself in conversation with my oldest son after his first secondary school examination results. He was the first one of our children to be put in a Chinese school at the secondary or middle school level and had miserably failed 4 to 5 papers. It was tough for him as he was more fluent in English and now had to tackle advance science, maths and history in the difficult language of Mandarin. Here was the basis of my conversation with him. I told him, "Son, don't worry. I am not the least worried or disappointed at your results. I had put you in the Chinese school to learn the language and I am aware of the difficulties and challenges. Look at it this way, you're probably at the bottom right now and can't really go any lower so there is only one way left that you can go and that is UP. Imagine a straight-line graph of your progress that begins from the bottom and gently rises over a period of time. Just work at it to make small improvements like just 5% in each exam and over the years, slowly but surely, you will rise to the top. It's that simple."
Well my son took on that challenge without pressure from me but with regular pep talks every morning when I drove him and the others to school. He managed to reduce the number of papers failed progressively until there might just be one subject that he would strategically not study and fail in order to focus on the more important subjects. He had adjusted well in the Chinese School and was an average student keeping up with the rest and not at the bottom like when he first started. In 2007, our four boys got accepted to schools in Singapore and the oldest with the next younger brother in the secondary or middle school level, got into one of the top schools in the island, The Anglo Chinese School (ACS) in Barker Road. At the end of the first year, my oldest boy scored to become the top student of the school in his level and this was basically my response to him, "Son I always knew you were intelligent and didn't need exam results to tell me so. This excellent result in Singapore is also due to the English medium of the school system there and if anything, it just gives you a booster for your own self confidence to know of the potential that you have. Well done and I am proud of you."
You see, there is probably a major difference in the attitude of both parents in the above stories. The expectations, the pressure given to the student and the response to failure all must have some effect on the child in his or her own response to failure and success. Without a supportive environment from parents, negative emotions developed in children can prove to be destructive as in the case of the girl in my university. I am careful not to over emphasize accomplishments of success as it can create too negative an effect on our emotions when we are slow to achieve or experience failure. This is a balancing method I employ in managing emotions. I believe the process is often times more important than the final result. I would be supportive in times of failure with equal enthusiasm as I would in the glory of success. At the time of writing, I was just invited by my son to attend an award giving ceremony at his school where he was the top student for 3 major subjects. For all my children, I would strive to be there for them in any activity where they would be participating or competing and cheering them whether they won or lost. Our consistency at all times in being supportive I believe nurtures their own self confidence and self esteem to make them more more resilient against destructive emotions that may arise in times of disappointment or failures.
The application of a supportive environment in managing negative emotions is found in the Toastmaster's Club in which I have been an active member for several years. It has helped many members overcome the emotion of fear in public speaking and it's worldwide success is primarily due to the supportive environment of evaluators, role players and the speaker himself who actively contribute to the activities of the club. Religious organizations also generally have a supportive environment that helps transform lives by providing love, care and spiritual teachings that help its members overcome their emotional struggles and produce even miracles as a result of their faith.
The Story of Another 2 Students
As I was successful in the Victorian Matriculation program at Taylor's college in Kuala Lumpur, I received an opportunity to study in an Australian university for free. I had made plans that the brother of my good friend would pick me up from Melbourne airport and following me on the same flight would be a girl from my biology class that would ride with us as we were going to the same university.
At the old Subang airport in Kuala Lumpur, I was ready to fly off to a new adventure in my life. Seeing me off were my parents, my older sister and some friends including my buddy whose brother was going to meet me on the other end of the flight. The girl that would follow me was there too and we boarded the flight together though would be in separate seats due to different times of checking in. Having said the good byes to my family and as I sat down in my seat, a strong emotion overcame me. As the plane took off and I looked out the window to see Kuala Lumpur for one last time for a long while, I became stricken with a homesick feeling. This would be the first time for me to leave home and family for a long duration and this depressive emotion just struck me and stayed throughout the flight! I have never really felt this depressed feeling in my life as I have always been adventurous and been out on many trips away from home so I should be used to it. This time however, I vividly remember looking quite pale in my seat as the plane flew further and further away from home. It was a terrible feeling that would even affect my appetite as I didn't touch much of the food served to me on the plane. My mind was filled with memories of home with my family and the many friends I would be leaving behind. Grief! I felt so alone and didn't talk to anyone as the only girl I knew was seated somewhere else in the plane. I was suffering on my own and felt a depression I had never experienced before.
What has become of me I wondered? Why was I feeling this way and my mind started thinking of a way out. I started rationalizing to myself that Australia wasn't really that far from home. The flight would only take about 9 hours between Kuala Lumpur and Melbourne. I could always fly home during the holidays. I started thinking about all the positives in my new life in Australia. I thought about the great places I could visit, the new friends I could make and that I could always call home if I missed my family. These positive thoughts started filling my mind and soon the plane touched down at the Tullamarine airport in Melbourne. As I stepped out of my seat and walked towards the exit door, I remember feeling that I could leave my negative thoughts and feelings behind me in the plane. I told myself that once I stepped out through the door of the plane, I was opening a new chapter of my life. Yes, I had managed to shrug off all the negative emotions that struck me when I left KL airport simply by replacing it with some positive logical reasoning I had mentioned. I walked out through the door of the airplane and never looked back to dwell on the negativity that I had experienced.
Now I met up with the girl at the airport to meet my friend's brother who would host us for a week before bringing us to the university. During the next few days, it was interesting to note that it was the girl's turn to be stricken with homesickness. She would remain so quiet by herself in the house and was skipping meals too saying she had no appetite to eat! We tried so hard to cheer her up. Sight seeing in Melbourne etc didn't change her mood one bit and she remained quiet and pale throughout the whole week until we dropped her at the university campus dorm where she had planned to stay. The girl of course eventually recovered once the course started and she got busy with her studies. At the end of 3 years we both graduated but isn't it a surprise that while I was all ready to go home, the girl decided to stay on further in Australia to work and finally become a permanent resident! One who was so homesick at first and took longer to recover became the one who would be happy not to go home for good!
I guess the moral of the story is that negative emotions can be adjusted and replaced by positive thoughts as I had done. Committing oneself to leave behind destructive emotions at the instant we walked through a door is an effective immediate commitment and action to switch our minds towards a positive direction. Negative emotions though potentially destructive at the time when it strikes is not something permanent and as in the girls situation, it can be completely eradicated and forgotten once happier thoughts and experiences are found to preoccupy our minds. It's what we do that counts as well as the thoughts we replay in our minds and meanings we interpret for ourselves to develop a more stable and welcoming attitude towards new things, people, places and situations. When we are alone and not doing anything positive, our best support is our own self-talk.
Destroyed but Recovered:
Church with the gospel of love and forgiveness is often times a haven for some who have emotional struggles. The more destructive effect of emotional struggles is to become labeled as one with an 'unsound mind'. In the course of my membership and giving service in my church, I have had the experience to know and become close to several such individuals who for some reason find close friendship and fellowship with me. I often think its because I must have some frequency with them due to my own 'unsound' mind but I rather label myself as creative instead!
There was this particular girl who would come to church consistently for a short duration of time and suddenly just disappear to reappear again with the same pattern repeated throughout the year. Apparently she was back from a nursing course in the UK but one wouldn't suspect that anything was wrong with her except for her unusual pattern of church attendance. On closer observation in a dialogue with her, you may probably realize that information from her about where she is from and what she is doing is a little disjointed or incomplete. Well I did get into such a dialogue with her but found that she did need some basic help like a place to stay. I found that my mother needed a companion and had a spare room to use and welcome her to live with her. Time went by and soon she reported strange things such as believing that someone or something was pricking her skin with a needle in the night time when she was asleep and she showed tiny marks or rashes on her skin which can be explained as insect bites perhaps. This caused her to put extra pad locks inside her room despite having a keyhole lock already. Later on she expressed anxiety to secure a job as she wanted to be financially independent to contribute to the household expenses of my mom. I found her a temp job as a receptionist with my ex company but soon reports came to me that she was found talking to imaginary persons when alone. After losing her job once again, she disappeared from us again this time for a longer period than previously.
It was such a long period that I had forgotten about her and had started my own business in an office down town. To my surprise, she showed up right at my office one day. There she was standing before my desk in my room looking very desperate and dirty with nails covered with dirt like she had been sleeping in the streets. Her first request was help again to have a place to stay and perhaps to have a job. I thought about it and here was my response or words to that effect, "Well you know I have given you all the help you had requested but it didn't really help you did it? I feel you need more professional help beyond what I can do and suggest that I take you to the hospital." In my mind I was thinking of the psychiatric department of the hospital but she responded with reluctance on the general idea and kept pleading for the regular help which I had to respond creatively as follows, " Now what's wrong with a hospital? Why don't you treat it like a hotel where you can get a nice bed, a good shower to clean up and they will serve you food too all for free!" To my surprise she liked the idea and agreed willingly to follow me to the University Hospital where I took her. There was a Dr Susan Ong in charge of the department and she and her team provided excellent service to her. They manage to contact a relative in the city who was a step brother who owned or ran a supermarket. She was sent home to be with her step-mother family and though there was no permanent psychiatric unit in her small home town, a medical team apparently would visit the area to continue visits with her.
Years went by and I didn't get any news of her well being until I received a hand written letter addressed to me which read something like..."Dear Brother.... I like to thank you for the help you had given me. I have recovered now from my illness and it is as if I came back from another world to the present." From the way she wrote and expressed herself, it was definitely a different person that we had known and I was very happy for her that she responded to the psychiatric treatment and medication that she received.
Years later our Church had a branch close by to her village and there was even a faithful family that stayed near her village that I got to know. I asked the family to find her location for me with the address I had given them and that I would like to visit her with my family in one of our out of town trips. Finally the day did come and my wife and I got to visit her but under unusual circumstances. She had explained to me earlier on the phone that since coming back home, she was given a place to stay in a family grocery store in the village. However, what was unusual about it was that when the shop closed in the night time, she would be the only one left inside the shop locked in by her step family! So she apologized to us that we could only talk with her when we visited through the bars of the main door which was locked from the outside and she wasn't given a key.
Thoughts raced through my mind, imagining the harsh emotional conditions that she grew up with in under her step family. Apparently her real parents had given her away for adoption when young and though they seem to be financially well off to send her to the UK to study nursing, some how she lacked an emotionally supportive environment that led to her emotional struggles. I later found out that she was adversely affected in a relationship with a boyfriend in the UK and came home as a lost sheep without completing her intended course. I have kept in touch with her over the years and the last was that she was now suffering not from mental illness but lung problem as the shop where she is confined in at the corner of what has now become a busy street is badly polluted with dust and smoke from the heavy traffic outside.
Through the course of the years, several others have come and gone through the church halls. Most are under some form of medical treatment and not all would have a happy ending like the story I had shared, if you can consider it a happy ending at all! Much of the cause of it is due to the environment of the family who may not be lacking financially but is void of a loving and caring environment that their children seek. They still like to keep in touch with me through phone, sms text, emails and meetings in Church and these are the ones I would consider more normal and stable. The more unfortunate ones are those who never found any place or friends in the Church to be comfortable and when I get to find out later of their condition, some have even gone missing from their family without a trace.
Yes medical attention is much needed by those whose emotions have become destructive for them but loving and caring support from family members and close friends goes a long way to help these needful souls to get their hearts and minds back on the right track again.