I’ve grown quite sick of emotions being demarcated for me and of being told why I should or should not feel a certain way. I’m presenting a case against this kind of demarcation in this post.
Emotion is Energy-in-Motion. It is a way of expressing oneself in life. It is the quality of how one relates to life. Yet there is a good-bad attribute attached to it. I’ve been told that I shouldn’t use the word ‘hate’ so often. Then there are these (sweet 🙂 ) friends who would with great difficulty use the work ‘dislike’, but hate- that’s too harsh a word. There is more to it, for instance- you’ll be made to believe that feeling guilty, angry, jealous and afraid isn’t right. This brings me to the polarization of emotions into negative and positive. Negative emotions are, for example: apathy, grief, fear, hatred, shame, blame, regret, resentment, anger, hostility, etc. Positive emotions are, for example: interest, enthusiasm, laughter, empathy, action, curiosity, etc.
This kind of divide made me wonder what exactly is the basis for classifying an emotion as negative or positive. I made an attempt to understand the meaning of positive emotions and negative emotions. After a great amount of deliberation I came up with a description I would like to stick with. Negative emotions express an attempt or intention to exclude. Keeping bad stuff away, destroying what is perceived as a threat. Negative emotions are fueled by an underlying fear of the unknown, a fear of the actions of others, and a need to control them or stop them, or to avoid being harmed. Positive emotions express an attempt or an intention to include. Taking the whole into consideration. Working on learning more viewpoints, interacting more with others, enjoying making things better. Positive emotions are fueled by an underlying desire for enjoyment and unity.
Keeping this description in mind we could say that some emotions are more positive or negative than others. But it isn’t necessarily practical to place them on a linear scale, since each one is a composite of various elements. Also, any emotion could fall in either category depending on how it’s used. Destructive emotions refer to an emotion that leads us to do something that harms ourselves or someone else. Almost any emotion can become destructive. Even too much happiness, if it’s manic excitement, can lead us to do destructive things. Anger over our shortfalls can lead us to setting goals and taking steps to change behavior and better ourselves. Anger against injustice seems to be an appropriate emotion. The list goes on and on where anger can be a useful emotion in our lives. On the flip side, if anger becomes a catalyst for destructive behaviors that result in violence or abuse to ourselves and others, than it is a misuse of the emotion. Jealousy and revenge could be great motivators. I was always extremely competitive. I think this kind of achievement orientation has only lead me to strive for success and perfection. It hasn’t ever led me to harm anyone or prevent me from helping others or sharing knowledge. Hence I consider competitiveness(how I use it) to be very positive. But I’ve seen the same to become destructive and sour friendships.
The complexity doesn’t end here. Some emotions camouflage as positive or negative, but really are the opposite of what they pretend. There is a type of pity which appears as genuine concern for others, but which is rather taking comfort in that somebody else is worse off than you. There is a covert hostility that masks as friendliness. There is love which is selfish and destructive going against the very grain and definition of love.
Even if an emotion can be easily classified as negative,are negative emotions just something to get rid of ? It is not that simple. They serve important functions. They become a motivation to learn and deal with life’s complexities,hence prove very useful. If one is always happy or joyful, it is a subtle indication of the incapability of perceiving negative undercurrents which are as much a part of our world.
Positive and negative emotions aren’t polarities. We can’t get rid of one and just keep the other. Ultimately they need to be and are integrated. They desist to exist in isolation. One can’t be perceived without being exposed to the nuance of the other. They don’t run a parallel course, are rather enmeshed. Also, since a negative emotion can be adaptive and a positive emotion destructive it might be wrong to even use this nomenclature.
Personally, I see no sense in this divide in emotions. We’re entitled to experiencing the entire range of myriad human emotions.