6 “useless” emotions that aren’t useless, and 2 that really are useless.

negative-emotions-crop

I get tired of positive thinking nazis  who tell you you always have to be happy and that there’s no place for “negative” emotions.   Not only is it obnoxious to wear a pasted on smile all the time even when you’re not feeling it, it’s not natural or healthy.   Of course, being a positive person who thinks positive thoughts is a good thing, but when it’s taken to ridiculous extremes (and it certainly is in my family, where “negative” emotions are not accepted or allowed) it can be soul-damaging.   Following is a list of unpopular (or “useless”) emotions that definitely have their uses (when they’re not excessive).  There are only two emotions I can think of that have no uses whatsoever, and I’ll describe those last.

1. Guilt.

My father always used to tell everyone that guilt was an unhealthy, useless emotion, but I couldn’t disagree more.   True, excessive guilt is bad for you, but the right amount of guilt separates people with a conscience from the psychopaths. I pointed out this to my father once, and he became enraged.   Hmmm, I wonder why!   The ability to feel guilt keeps us civilized and mindful of the feelings of others.

2. Sadness.

Sadness is a normal reaction to a loss.  It also connects people in those times of loss.  We have socially sanctioned rituals that promote and even encourage the expression of sadness (funerals) but otherwise, people are uncomfortable with the sadness of another and are always trying to cheer you up.   If you’re crying, people always want you to stop. Why?  Feeling sad and crying can be healing; if sadness is repressed it can lead to something much worse–depression.   People need to just shut up and let you be sad and cry if that’s what you need to do.

3. Anger.

There are times it’s appropriate to be angry.    Anger, though toxic both to yourself and others when excessive,  helps you survive.  If you feel threatened or feel that someone close to you is threatened, you are going to fight back.  The only other survival option is to flee (which I’ll talk about next).   Otherwise you’re just going to stand there and let yourself or your loved ones get attacked or treated badly.    Excessive anger, of course, leads to hatred, and hatred is not only useless, it’s dangerous to the soul.

4. Fear.

If you can’t fight (sometimes you can’t), you can flee danger.   Like anger, fear is a survival emotion.   It can be excessive, leading to anxiety disorders, but fear in normal doses is both healthy and appropriate reactions to danger.   It’s important to distinguish whether it’s better to flee (fear) or to fight (anger).

5. Jealousy.

I’m not talking about envy here, an emotion often confused with jealousy.  But they are not the same.   Jealousy refers to the fear that someone is taking something you love away from you; envy refers to wanting what someone else has.  There are similarities though. Both are bitter, painful emotions, hard to deal with.  Sometimes they lead to people attacking the object of their jealousy or envy to “even the score.”   But jealousy has its place.   It’s another survival emotion, similar to anger mixed with fear, that warns you that something that belongs to you is in danger of being taken away.   The problem is jealousy often crops up when there is no real danger of that happening, and that leads to all kinds of problems.  Excessive jealousy can be problematic too.

6. Envy.

I hesitated to put envy here, because on the surface it really doesn’t seem to have any useful purpose.  I almost put it as one of the “useless” emotions I’ll be describing last.  But envy does have one useful aspect.  If it’s not excessive, it can be a motivator, making you take action to improve your own circumstances.   When it’s used that way, it’s really more akin to admiration than envy.   The problem with envy is it can so often turn so bitter that it saps all your energy and lowers your self esteem, making you LESS likely to improve your circumstances or achieve the things you want.

The Two Emotions That Really Are Useless.  

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1. Worry.

I heard a great saying once:  “Worry is useless because if what you dread comes to pass, then you’ve lived through it twice; if it never happens, then your worry was in vain.”  I took those words to heart because of how true they are.   Worry is absolutely useless.  If faced with a potentially bad or dangerous situation, worry won’t help you.  If something can be done to prevent the situation from happening, taking action will help,  and once you take action, then there’s nothing more to worry about.   If there’s no action you can take, then worrying about it is a waste of time.  Better to plan how you will deal with it when it happens, than to sit around wringing your hands, pulling out your hair, and making yourself sick over it.

2. Shame.

Shame must be distinguished here from guilt.  Guilt refers to something you did, while shame refers to the person you are.  Guilt is useful because without it, there would be no apologies or amend-making for bad behavior.   People would just go around doing whatever they want, regardless of how it makes others feel.   Shame, on the other hand, is useless because it means feeling sorry not for something you did, but for who you are.  If you were the family scapegoat, then you were the receptacle for all the family shame, and were made to feel like you’re worthless and don’t deserve to live.    Shame is the one emotion that is at the core of all the personality disorders and every case of complex PTSD generated by familial abuse.  It’s incredibly toxic–probably the most toxic emotion there is, and it has about as much usefulness as a bicycle does for a fish.

For more about shame vs. guilt, please read Carrie Musgrove’s article about the important distinctions.

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About luckyotter

Recovering from BPD and C-PTSD due to narcissistic abuse from childhood. Married to a sociopath for 20 years. Proud INFJ, Enneagram type 4w5. Animal lover, music lover, cat mom, unapologetic geek, fan of the absurd, progressive Catholic, mom to 2, mental illness stigma activist, anti-Trumper. #RESISTANCE
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10 Responses to 6 “useless” emotions that aren’t useless, and 2 that really are useless.

  1. Tammi Kale says:

    Even though I’m a strong believer in the power of a positive attitude, I also without a doubt know that we cannot learn without going through a lesson, and most of those lessons involve an emotion or situation that is not ‘positive’. And as long as I’m breathing, I hope to be learning. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. katiesdream2004 says:

    YES! Remember the thought police that tell you what’s appropriate for you to think are quite often narcs. They usually want you to step way from your humanity unless the pain is their own and then the rules don’t apply. Your suffering is irrelevant theirs is the center of the universe. I believe all of this. Sometimes our emotions are telling us something we are in denial about

    Liked by 3 people

    • luckyotter says:

      What you say is true. Narcs are afraid of feelings, true feelings. That’s why families like mine scapegoat children like me, who can’t hide from the truth or keep themselves from feeling it. They try to silence the truth, and true feelings are where the truth is.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Lorie Webb says:

    Great article. So well thought out. I fully agree with you categories.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Axis says:

    Great article! 🙂
    In my personal opinion every emotion in appropriate moderation, is of at least some use

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree with Lorie ^ very well thought out. Shame/guilt and envy/jealousy can be difficult to distinguish. You worded the explanations well. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Dawn V. Cahill says:

    What great insights here! I especially appreciated the difference between shame and guilt. I’ve been trying for years to cast off the shame-based messages I was raised on…getting better, but this article really clarified it!
    Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. hbsuefred says:

    This post drove me to look up a few things, esp “emotion” v “emotions”. A definition of the former is “a mental state that arises spontaneously rather than through conscious effort and is often accompanied by physiological changes. In my “go-to” source, Wikipedia, the entry under “emotion” starts off “Emotion, in everyday speech, is any relatively brief conscious experience characterized by intense mental activity and a high degree of pleasure or displeasure” and adds “Scientific discourse has drifted to other meanings and there is no consensus on a definition. Emotion is often intertwined with mood, temperament, personality, disposition, and motivation. The physiology of emotion is closely linked to arousal of the nervous system with various states and strengths of arousal relating, apparently, to particular emotions. Emotion is also linked to behavioral tendency (and) is often the driving force behind motivation, positive or negative.”

    It says about emotions that they ” are complex (and) according to some theories, they are a state of feeling that results in physical and psychological changes that influence our behavior. Emotions involve different components, such as subjective experience, cognitive processes, expressive behavior, psychophysiological changes, and instrumental behavior. For more than 40 years, Paul Ekman has supported the view that emotions are discrete, measurable, and physiologically distinct. Ekman’s most influential work revolved around the finding that certain emotions appeared to be universally recognized, even in cultures that were preliterate. His research findings led him to classify six emotions as basic: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise. Robert Plutchik agreed with Ekman’s biologically driven perspective but developed the “wheel of emotions”, suggesting eight primary emotions grouped on a positive or negative basis: joy versus sadness; anger versus fear; trust versus disgust; and surprise versus anticipation.”

    I should have known this would be a very complex subject. Really, all I want to do is to learn and to figure out how to personally handle my own!

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