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LostInParadise's avatar

Of what use are negative emotions?

Asked by LostInParadise (24583points) May 11th, 2009

What is so good about being able to feel bad? Do I need to feel hatred to perceive that someone poses a threat? Do I need to feel fear to avoid danger? Do I need sadness to avoid losses? And of what possible use are phobias and depression? If there were a way to shut down a person’s negative emotions, do you think the person would be at an evolutionary disadvantage?

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22 Answers

hearkat's avatar

As feeling cold helps us appreciate warmth more fully; so being sad or angry helps us appreciate joy, and feeling loss helps us appreciate those we do have in our lives now.

Phobias and depression are disorders of the system, like allergies are disorders of our immune system, and are not useful. Having suffered with chronic depression for the first 40 years of my life, I now feel that the key is not elimination of any emotions, but allowing oneself to feel them without letting them control your actions.

I feel fear and sadness, and I will allow myself time to reflect on the feelings and to express them, but not to consume me or to cause me to act irrationally.

wundayatta's avatar

If you didn’t have fear, then things attacking you would have an easy time killing you. Sadness is important to help you appreciate things, which encourages you to nurture the things you like.

In any case, why characterize them as negative emotions. They just are emotions, and they are your friend. They generally teach you the best and most useful lessons of your life.

nebule's avatar

I think I’m at an evolutionary disadvantage because I am more susceptible to depression, pain, fear, suffering… I’m not a winner a go getter…and therefore am less likely to produce many of the ‘fittest’ kind

dynamicduo's avatar

How would you know what “feeling good” felt like if you didn’t know what “feeling bad” felt like? Negative emotions have a purpose in that they allow us to qualify the other emotions we feel.

Yes, I do think that if there was a way to shut down someone’s negative emotions, they would be at a disadvantage. Eliminating the emotions would not eliminate the process of arising to the emotions, after all, and emotions are many times a way for us to express our inner turmoil and relieve the pressure we feel inside. Thus the inability to express negative emotions would I believe force the person to keep it all inside, which would not be good for their mental health.

hearkat's avatar

@daloon: Excellent point about labeling emotions as “good” vs. “bad”—they are neither.

@lynneblundell: Those of us who are predisposed to feel depression, etc. are not less fit than others… we are just different. I feel that we do contribute with our tendency towards introspection and compassion towards the suffering of others.

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

We have not changed evolutionarily since we were living in caves and fighting with stone axes. You could argue that in a civilized age, hate and fear and rage are simply vestigial.

hearkat's avatar

@IchtheosaurusRex: so if I’m walking to my car at night after leaving a movie theater, and a strange man approaches me from behind, it is of no use for me to feel fear? And if he does attempt to harm me, won’t a sense of rage help me fight back? And if he succeeds in harming me, am I and my loved ones not justified in feeling hatred?

spresto's avatar

They are great for fuel on the fire.

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

@hearkat , did I say we are living in a civilized age?

oratio's avatar

These are just my opinions in the matter.

I think we need all our emotions.

Most of our life is controlled and governed by instincts, reaction, impulses. You don’t tell your heart to beat, it is controlled by parts you have little control over. Some people can train and gain some control. If I smack my hands together in front of your face you flinch, or at least close your eyes uncontrollably. These things we share with all animals and insects. They have “discovered” that most vertebrates share our emotional spectrum. Anger, hate, fear, boredom, joy, love… This is something that seems to have evolved a long time ago, and is thus obviously pre-human.

I would say that our emotions speak to our consciousness for the purpose of memory, and advise. The more emotion you connect to an event the more likely you are to remember it. A traumatic incident will be remembered for the rest of one’s life, cause of the feelings associated with the event. This would have the effect of a person making sure it doesn’t happen again. The emotions also tells you things like that “this was good, this was bad, this was interesting…” and associate and access these feelings with similar situations. An emotional transfer.

Your emotions helps you deal with everyday problems, but sometimes you emotions create them(racism, fear of benign things). We get problems when we cross or ignore our instincts and emotions. The body won’t forget them, even if your consciousness represses them.

I simply think we need every emotion in order for us to handle life. Especially a complex life like our human one.

hearkat's avatar

@IchtheosaurusRex: point taken – this is no utopia!! LOL

hearkat's avatar

@oratio: ”They have “discovered” that most vertebrates share our emotional spectrum. Anger, hate, fear, boredom, joy, love… This is something that seems to have evolved a long time ago, and is thus obviously pre-human.

Most vertebrates? do you mean most primates?
I’d like a link to that research, if you could find it, please…

oratio's avatar

@hearkat Beh, I wrote that these were my opinions in a hope to get away with it, alas..
I should have written mammals. What I was thinking of writing the comment was an of article I read in one of our nationwide newspapers(Dagens Nyheter, Sweden), though I couldn’t find it now. You couldn’t read it but I could have referred to the studies.

I have no direct sources atm but these and references might be a start.

[1] Emotion in animals
[2] Altruism in animals
[3] Dogs, fairness and jealosy

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

Our negative emotions have no useful purpose. They only cause problems and not only for ourselves, but more importantly, they cause problems for others.That’s why we should not embrace those emotions.

LostInParadise's avatar

@hearkat , I could appreciate positive emotions by distinguishing them from neutral state. I do not need negative emotions for this.

Those who have said that all emotions are neutral must be much more highly evolved than me. I do not find fear, anger or hatred to be at all pleasant and would not feel at a loss if I never felt them again.

Our modern society places a premium on assertiveness and extroversion. Like @lynneblundell , I feel disadvantaged by general timidity and depression. Perhaps among hunter-gatherers the situation would be different.

I would guess that most vertebrates feel emotions. Certainly mammals and birds and quite possibly reptiles and fish as well.

DarkScribe's avatar

I find them very useful. I save up confrontation issues – usually with people like telcos or various services that overcharge or under-service and jump onto the phone and let fly. The satisfaction resulting from some successful resolutions gets rid of the negative feeling and solves the assorted problems.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

The key is that you don’t have to have those emotions, but that you just do, you can’t help it sometimes – then you should quickly attend to the cause of your negative emotions and deal with the situation

rooeytoo's avatar

Fear has saved my life.
Anger has protected me.
Feeling badly has alerted me to issues that need to be addressed.

If you consider these feelings as negative emotions, then I would say simply they are a part of life and as long as they stay in balance and do not completely rule my life, then it is not a problem for me.

hearkat's avatar

@rooeytoo: very well said! Much Lurve!

nebule's avatar

yep…in order to bounce back..we all have an our pose

Midnight_Blue's avatar

You have based a question based on a strawman premise. There is no requirement for all things to be good or to have a reason.

You would not normally feel hatred in response to threat, the normal reaction would be fear or nervousness. Phobias and clinical depression are abnormal and so not expected to have potential value. Depression in response to negative life events is normal. If you had a frontal lobotomy you would feel no depression, but you would also feel no joy.

We have the ability to feel emotion, but if we never felt sad, we could never feel happy. Emotion is recognised as a change from stasis, if we can’t sense a change we can’t feel emotion.

LostInParadise's avatar

I am not convinced that sadness is the flip side of happiness. We have separate pain and pleasure sensors.

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