Most, if not all, of us view Negative Emotions (like Annoyance, Anxiety, Anger, Irritation, Resentment, etc.) as unwanted realities in our lives. We would much prefer to have positive emotions (like Anticipation, Happiness, Hope, Love, etc.) residing in us. And, why not! Life is so much more fun when we are anticipating a desired outcome, or when we are happy because we have achieved our desired outcome, or when we still have something to hope for, or when we feel great love for another.
I do not know of anyone who appreciates experiencing fear, anger, resentment, etc. Have you ever heard anyone say, “Wow, it’s a good thing that I have resentment towards my siblings!” And yet, what do you think would happen to you if you were not capable of experiencing the negative emotion of fear, for example? Might you pick up a snake by its tail… and be bitten by it? Might you drive your car at reckless speeds… and, possibly crash it and burn with you in it?
The fact is, our negative emotions have value. Our magnificent brain picks up stimuli from the environment that we are in and processes them at speeds of 5 billion bits per second, and “Voila!”, we sense danger, or we sense that we are going to “hit it off well” with someone we meet for the first time. In general, we experience negative emotions when we perceive, either consciously or non-consciously, that we are faced with a situation that is a threat to what you believe, “Should Be”. For example, you’re in a restaurant and your simple order of cheese sandwich, which was taken 10 minutes ago, is still not out. And so, you’re now experiencing impatience or irritation! Why? Because your expectation is that your order should have been delivered to you 5 minutes ago. Your emotion (from the French word “emouvoir”, which means “to stir up”) is what will serve as your impulse to act in a way that will get you to your “Should Be”. Therefore, you might say that negative emotions are like our friends telling us that we are faced with a situation that is a threat to our well-being and that we need to move to action! In the following page, is a short list of negative emotions and what each of them might be telling us.
- Anger – is experienced when one’s well-being is being threatened or being abused and, as a result, one experiences physical or psychological pain. This emotion impels you to put a stop to the abuse.
- Apprehension – takes place when one imagines some unwanted future possibility happening. This then leads you to act in a way that puts a stop to the possibility of the unwanted event occurring.
- Anxiety – this occurs when one feels unprepared to deal with an upcoming demand. This leads you then to take the necessary actions that will prepare you for that demand.
- Bored – involves making the assessment that what is taking place at the moment is of no interest or no value to you. This tells you that you need to take yourself out of the situation or to do something to make the situation more interesting to you.
- Disappointment – takes place when things do not turn out according to one’s expectations. This emotion impels you to strive harder to achieve your expectations.
- Envy – occurs when one does not possess what someone else has and resentfully longs to have what the other has. Ideally, this emotion leads you to strive harder to acquire what the other has.
- Fear – is felt when one perceives the possibility of losing something that one values. This emotion moves you to act in ways that ensure you do not lose what you value.
- Guilt – occurs when one has violated an internal standard one holds on to. This emotion tells you that you either need to make amends or you need to change your standard.
- Irritation – happens when one feels that the other is not taking one’s needs into consideration and, therefore, one’s sense of well-being is adversely affected. You must therefore do whatever it takes to have your needs considered.
- Jealousy – is felt when one believes that one’s special status is at risk of being lost. You, therefore, need to up your game to preserve your special status.
- Nervousness – is a sign that one is unprepared to handle a situation that one is expected to be able to perform. This emotion tells you that you need to get your act together and get ready to deliver.
- Regret – is experienced when one dwells on things that could have been or what one could have done but didn’t do. This impels you to take the needed actions to do now what you should have done then.
- Resentment – is what is felt when one holds the belief that the other has unjustly done you wrong. This emotion leads you to attempt to correct the injustice.
- Shame – is felt when there is the perception that a cultural or social value has been violated. This emotion leads you to seek forgiveness for your violation.
- Worry – is experienced when we dwell on unpleasant or unwanted things that might happen. This emotion is telling you to take the steps to prevent the occurrence of the unwanted thing.
Now, if our negative emotions “are like our friends…”, why do we often get into more trouble when we take the actions that the emotion suggests? It is my opinion that it is largely because we have not learned to properly express negative emotions. This will be the subject of my next article, “Expressing Negative Emotions”.