The Good in Feeling Bad

The good in bad feelingsOne of the most misleading and confusing distinctions people often make with emotions is to divide them into two groups: good feelings and bad feelings. Good feelings might include joy, pride, curiosity, warmth, confidence, concern, or trust and bad feelings might include anger, fear, jealousy, guilt, despair, grief, or hate.  While certainly there is wisdom in distinguishing between the pleasant emotions and the unpleasant emotions, calling the unpleasant emotions “bad” is quite incorrect. All of our emotions, and the combinations of emotions that we can experience, have some survival benefit. This point is important: if any of our emotions were hazardous to our survival, then they would not be passed onto future generations.

The fact that so called bad or negative emotions such as pain, fear, grief, sadness, and guilt exist indicates that they are very important for facilitating human survival.  There is a rare genetic disease where a person is born without the ability to feel any physical pain.  The life expectancy of these people is typically only about 20 years.  They often die from serious burns that become gangrenous, and because they don’t feel any pain, they do not realise they have even burned themselves until it is too late for treatment to save them.  Here it becomes clear that having a painless life will in fact also be a short life.  Likewise, a person who never feels guilt will quickly find themselves locked away in prison or hated and scorned by the community, while those who do not feel fear will end up a delicious meal for a bear or in a serious accident because they did not take proper precautions.  There are clear survival benefits for having pain, fear, and guilt.  However, for the emotions of sadness and grief, the link between these emotions and increased chances of survival is a bit more complicated to understand. Continue reading

Who Makes You Feel?

Inside-Out-5-Emotions2

John was running late to work because the bus had broken down. When he arrived at his office he was worried that his boss would be angry at him. He informed her about the bus, but she just frowned and said you cannot control things like that. John felt huge relief and as though his boss cared about him. Mary was trying on clothes in a store and she overheard one of the staff comment on how fat she was. She peeked out the door of the change room and saw that the staff member who had said it was a thin, tall girl, like all the girls in the store. She immediately felt self-conscious about her body and ashamed.

The two little stories above are examples of events that many people have probably experienced at some point in their lives. What I find curious is the different answers I get from people when I ask them, “Who makes John and Mary feel the different emotions they experience?”

Some people will answer that John has no control over how he feels, it is his boss who decides if he will feel relieved or frightened about losing his job based on how she reacts to him being late. In the case of Mary, she is powerless to prevent herself from feeling self-conscious and ashamed when someone calls her fat. The skinny girl makes Mary feel bad about herself.

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