In recent years, several emotions have been called out as unhealthy or maladaptive for human happiness. These emotions are worry, shame and guilt. In a narcissistic society where selfishness is held as a virtue, these three emotions are indeed maladaptive, especially shame and guilt. But shame and guilt keep us civilized. They keep us from doing bad things to others and they are the reason we have laws such as not murdering someone we don’t like. Shame and guilt (when appropriate, of course) have a pro-social function and are the inner brakes that keep us from hurting others or making restitution if we have. A car with no brakes is a dangerous thing. So is a human being. Shame and guilt are only “bad” when they’re excessive or unnecessary. But a person without the ability to ever feel shame and guilt is a sociopath with no conscience and without the ability to feel empathy for others, not a proper human being.
Worry is a different ball of wax. I can’t think of any good reasons for worry to exist. I’m one of those people who worry all the time, about everything. It’s not a fun emotion and is a huge damper to happiness. Worry is related to fear, but is a little different. Fear has its proper place. It keeps us from being harmed or killed. If we are walking in the woods and a bear blocks our path, it would be stupid to try to reason with the bear or fight it. We feel fear instead, which causes us to run or back away. If we meet a person who gives us the willies, fear is a natural response that keeps us from becoming that person’s victim. We learn to avoid that person. Fear is a survival emotion.
Worry is a kind of fear that isn’t set on the here and now. It’s set on what might happen in the future or sometimes what happened in the past. It causes a person to ruminate excessively and not be able to enjoy what’s taking place right then and there, because they’re too focused on nonexistent events or events that have already taken place and can’t be undone. If you worry constantly about losing your job, that will usually cause you to act less confident and make more mistakes and can even bring on the event you fear the most. If you worry your mate might leave you, your worry causes you to act clingy and possessive, and they could feel smothered and actually leave you. Worrying over things you have no control over is just, well, stupid.
Sometimes people worry about things that have already occurred too. If you snapped at your girlfriend for no reason, you might worry about that because you’re afraid they might leave you. Guilt–not worry–would be appropriate in a situation like this. Guilt will make you apologize to your girlfriend, after which you both feel relief. Worry will do nothing except make you obsess and ruminate over your mistake. Rather than act as an impetus to action or a motivation to correct your mistakes, worry over past events causes you to turn inward and beat yourself up without taking any action.
Some people are addicted to worry though, and go through life imagining the worst things imaginable. It’s impossible to be happy constantly believing the world is a dangerous place full of landmines and booby traps. I have no idea why so many people are addicted to worry, because it’s not a drug that has a pleasant high. It can even kill you because it causes excessive stress which is hard on your body and can lead to illness. I think worry was pounded into those of us who were victimized by narcissists because we lack confidence in our own ability to control the events in our lives. We believe we have no more control over things than a leaf blowing in the wind. But that’s another lie they tell us.
There are a couple of sayings I’ve heard about worry that sum it up pretty well and made me realize just how useless this emotion is.
1. Worrying about something is like paying interest on a debt you never owed.
2. Worry is useless because if the event you fear never happens, you lived through it for nothing; and if the event does happen, you lived through it twice.