The Problem of Good v. Bad Emotions

Written by
Michael Wells

The Problem of Good v. Bad Emotions

Written by
Michael Wells

The Problem of Good v. Bad Emotions

Written by
Michael Wells

Originally answered on Quora, as the question:
What is the most self-destructive emotion?

There is no such thing as a self-destructive emotion.

Think about it- why would mother nature evolve -- or God design --- a mechanism in you that is designed to harm you?

All emotions are useful, healthy things.  Every one of them. Even the uncomfortable ones, like anger, fear, doubt, pain, shame…

However - it is possible for you to respond to your emotions in unhealthy ways.

I can think of three examples;

  1. Emotional shame
  2. Suppressing emotions
  3. Recursive emotions, and some linked emotions

Emotional Shame

Emotional shame is the idea that feeling a particular emotion is wrong. A common example is anger.  Many people are taught that anger is bad, even though it’s one of the most powerful and useful emotions you have.

No emotions are wrong - in fact they are a fundamental, essential part of what make you who you are. They motivate every decision you make, even the rational ones.

Suppressing Emotions

The whole point of an emotion is to draw your attention to something your brain thinks is important - and to motivate you to do something about it.

If you try to ignore it, the emotional part of your brain just says “this idiot isn’t listening, let’s make this louder.” So the emotion grows, and eventually overwhelms you.

Often this we suppress emotion when we feel emotional shame… but instead of making the emotion go away, the emotion intensifies and-

… anger becomes rage.

… sadness becomes depression.

… fear becomes paranoia.

Recursive Emotions

Often emotions trigger other emotions. For example, we might feel fear in response to our own anger ( e.g. uh oh, can I control this? )  

This is natural, although this effect is often strongest when you are suppressing emotions, and therefore they express in other ways  ( e.g. suppressed anger can become depression ).

Where this becomes a real problem is when an emotion triggers itself in a recursive loop. Again, this is most often a result of suppression. When emotions generate themselves, they can spiral out of control near-instantly, and hit extreme levels of intensity.  

… feeling anxious about anxiety — spirals into panic.

… feeling afraid of fear — spirals into terror.

… feeling angry towards anger — spirals into rage.

It’s well-worth developing a good understanding of your emotions, and what they are trying to motivate you to do. Often, all you need to do is carefully examine an emotion, and understand what is triggering it.  Journaling is great for this, as is talking with a friend or coach.

Whatever you do, don’t suppress them, and don’t divide them into categories of good and bad.

Every emotion you have is important, and helpful when you use it properly.

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Here's a well-written breakdown to help you process and deal with difficult emotions;