The Case for Negative Emotions
How Negative Emotions can be Used for Good
I used to joke with my wife about a great idea for a self-help program. After the year we’ve had in 2020, I think maybe it’s time to unveil it. It’s called: “I hate it all, and you can too!”
A word of context about this phrase: it was a fruit of my depression. I now understand it to be disdain for the things of this world that we think will bring contentment but do not satisfy. For me, saying “I hate it all,” was a way to cope with that feeling of loss and discontent.
Hate is a word that we don’t like used in our home. The reason it’s frowned upon is that we don’t want to teach our children hate towards people. But I think it has its place. Like anger, hate can signal an injustice, or need for rectification. I hate when I get taken advantage of by disingenuous sales people. I hate when children are abused by their parents and relatives. I hate that as the first snow falls in Kansas City there are homeless people without shelter. Negative emotions move us away from that which is not healthy, good, and fitting, just as positive emotions move us towards the good by rewarding us with enjoyable sensations.
We try to run from negative emotions because they are not pleasant, but they are just as necessary for our well being. I often refer to the Pixar movie Inside Out when talking about parts and emotions with children and adults alike. The interesting aspect of the movie to me is that the majority of the emotions (Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger, Anxiety) are negative. Also of note is that they include disgust, which I seldom, if at all, identified as an emotion prior to watching the movie. Over time, I’ve begun to understand disgust as a worthwhile emotion. Through repulsion, disgust moves us away from experiences and people who are destructive to our true identities. With disgust, it is as if our emotions are doing a heave, trying to expel the situation from us as quickly as possible, similar to our bodies ejecting a virus.
In his podcast, “The Place We Find Ourselves,” Adam Young encourages his listeners to consider what makes them angry as a means of moving them towards their purpose. For example, I think the idea of people living misguided and empty lives with no meaning made missionaries angry and moved them to spread the Gospel to the ends of the world. Jealousy can also be another route to finding our mission and purpose. When we see someone doing the mission and living with the purpose that is also ours, we can become jealous, especially when we are afraid to pursue that path. So take some time today, reflect on the things that make you angry. What disgusts you? What makes you jealous and why? And where might God be calling you to move towards or away from?
Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash