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

Originally posted on July 10, 2016 on Lucky Otters Haven

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I get tired of the positive thinking brigade who tells you you always must 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 actually be self-defeating and drive what you love away from you — the most obvious example is constantly asking someone you’re in a relationship with if they are seeing someone else, or snooping in their things to find out.  That sort of behavior will eventually drive the other person away.

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

  1. Dear luckyotter,
    I Have been reading your post because I have all over the net in desperation trying to make my marriage work with a suspected Narcissist (or at the very least a man with narcissistic traits) We have been together 20 years & in the beginning he was my prince charming, my soul mate(or so I thought) then shortly after he began to try to control me & isolate me from my family & friends! but when I ask him why , he denied that he was doing that & would be sweet again for awhile. He also began physically abusing me & that went on for several years until I started to become afraid that he would kill me so I reached out for help to family & friends & once his secret was out the physical abused stopped & he then began to take temper tantrums & break thinks when he couldn’t get his own way! He does awful things & turns it around to make it look like it was me!! He runs down my family & wished bad things on them (out loud) but is nice to their faces!! He started fooling around on me a few years ago & left me blaming it on me but when I asked him what I did wrong, he said “nothing, you were a good wife” then he would run me down again & contact me again praising me & asking for favors , like sex or could I fix his phone or give him groceries ect… ! OMG! Then one day he said he wanted to come home so I thought we would take it slow & maybe date again first before jumping back into things but he never wanted to be seen in public with me, and one day out of the blue he text me & said he didn’t love me & told me to move on so I did!! I met a nice man & as soon as my ex found out he wanted to come back!! He paid me a visit, in tears begged me to take him back ,promising to do whatever he had to do to change including therapy .I loved him so much (or I should say I loved the memory of the man I thought he was ) & prayed that he could be that man again so I took him back. As soon as he came back he began treating me very cold & showed no affection what so ever!!! I told him he needed to see a doctor because his behavior had not been ” normal” for a long time “He went, but was not true to himself & convinced the doctor that there was nothing wrong with him ! Since then things have been up & down with us! He seen to not fit the criteria for full blown narcissism because he can appear somewhat normal for a few weeks at a time , sometimes for as long as a month until I disagree with him or do something he doesn’t agree with or if he doesn’t get his way & then he goes into a a rage like no one can imagine!! I used to be afraid of him, now I tell him I’m not afraid & that he’s acting like a child & I take a bag & go to my girlfriends until he calms down, (which he always does) He will call & apologize MOST of the time & says he’ll try harder. (until the next time) I am getting to old for this & my health has gone down hill considerably . Is there any hope for him, for us ? He says he wants to change but insist he is not bad enough for therapy . Should I continue to let him try or cut my losses now? If he is sincere about it what can we do together to make this work?

    sincerely Kitchen chick57

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for sharing your story. I will try to read this over more carefully when I have a bit more time. But it’s great you have realized what you have been dealing with, and that’s a step toward healing. I definitely think you need to cut your losses and leave him. Trying to change him will not work and there is little chance he will change. You will have wasted your time and he could destroy you in the end. Best to get away if you can. Good luck. His promises to change are most likely hoovering to keep you codependent.

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    2. Your relationship sounds very much like what I have been through. My heart goes out to you. Here are two books that really helped me figure things out, when I was in your situation and did not know what to do:
      1) Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft, and 2) Women Who Love Too Much by Robin Norwood.

      Of the two books, I think it is better to read Why Does He Do That?, first.

      I am saying a prayer for you now. Take courage, you are not alone.

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