Friday, April 3, 2009

Healthy Painful Emotions

Ms. Anonymous sent a comment to my post on Six Unhealthy Emotions. Obviously I don’t know the gender of Ms. Anonymous so I will pretend it is female.

Normally, I would not allow this comment to be published. As I’ve mentioned before, I would like to publish all your comments to any post. However, the requirement is that you sign your name for it to be published. If you would rather not so, your comment will not be published. Instead of not having a response to your anonymous comment, you would be better off sending me a personal email message at

With that said, I decided to post a response to Ms. Anonymous because the confusion implied by her comment may be common for others of you. Here is what she said: "There are not only six unhealthy emotions. three are left out...anger, jealousy, and lust. and envy. thats four that were forgotten and i think should be included."

There are two kinds of painful emotions: healthy and unhealthy. You can review this concept in the previous article on the subject. If you have a copy of The Worry Free Life, you can review this material in Chapter Three. If you don’t have the book yet, you can also read Chapter Three online by clicking this link.

I would like to address the idea of healthy emotional pain. To do that we need to understand that our emotions exist within the package of thoughts and behavior. All emotions are preceded by some type of thought process (even thought you may not be aware of it) and followed by a behavior (active or inactive).

One of the major differences between your healthy painful emotions and the unhealthy painful ones is the different paths they take. The unhealthy painful emotions will propel you down a path of self-destruction and a life of misery. The healthy painful emotions are the warning bells that remind you that life can be painful but built within that pain is the means to manage and cope with it. Although there many healthy, painful emotions, fortunately there are only six unhealthy ones.

Let’s take a closer look at the comment by Ms. Anonymous. She believes that anger, jealousy, lust and envy are unhealthy emotions. This is a common misunderstanding. They certainly seem unhealthy. Don’t we have anger management classes for people because anger can be so destructive? Isn’t jealousy called the "green-eyed monster?" Aren’t we taught that lust and envy are emotions to be avoided?

The only way to make sense of the fact that these emotions are healthy is look at them in their packaging. Anger is a very common emotion. Few people go through a day without experiencing it. Anger is generated by something that takes place outside of us. Often it is because someone else does something that violates our sense of fairness of right and wrong. We then say to ourselves, "What they did is bad and they shouldn’t have done that." Our automatic reaction is to feel anger. Now, if this anger remains pure anger and doesn’t get polluted — which it often does by one of the unhealthy emotions — then the emotion will move us towards confronting the person about their behavior. When this happens, we may have increased the possibility of helping this person change the way they behavior towards you.

As happens so often, anger gets mixed with its opposite, resentment. Resentment when we respond to the injustice with the thought that other person is bad and worthless. Then we feel resentment, on top of the anger, and want to retaliate and hurt the other person.

This can be confusing because many people don’t make the distinction between anger and resentment. By mixing the two, it is easy to see why Ms. Anonymous thinks that anger is an unhealthy emotion. It is unhealthy because reasonable confrontation is very important in relationships. As social creatures, we improve ourselves by having people give us feedback on our behavior. Think of the times in your life when you have improved yourself because someone cared enough to let you know you were off base.

If you are a faith-based person, you probably believe that Jesus never sinned. If this is so, then you are on dangerous ground by thinking that anger is unhealthy. Do you remember his white rage when he carefully made a whip of nasty knots, walked into the temple and started beating people and destroying their legitimate businesses (John 2:13-16)? If you read this section carefully you realize how genuinely angry Jesus really was. It does no good to justify his behavior by using adjectives, like "righteous," in front of the word anger. Perhaps he was angry but not resentful. Anger, by itself, is normal and healthy. However, we need to be cautious about not letting resentment override our anger.

Jealousy is another difficult emotion to see as normal and healthy. Again, this is because we don’t understand the packaging of the emotion. Jealousy is triggered when we think someone wants to take something or someone from us that we love and admire. If someone feels jealousy, they might say to themself, "I think that person wants to take my boyfriend from me." The jealousy (free of unhealthy emotions) gets the jealous person to behave in healthy way by putting more energy and effort into keeping the relationship with the boyfriend strong and connected.

Ms. Anonymous mentioned lust. Actually, this is a physical sensation, not an emotion. It may be accompanied by emotions such as envy, excitement, or wanting. Since this post is about emotions we can leave lust for another time. Envy is often the flip side of jealousy. Instead of someone wanting something of ours, envy is the healthy emotion that occurs when we want something that someone else has. You can see why it is healthy because it motivates us to behave in ways that help us get what we want on our own. If we begin telling ourself that the person who has what we want is a bad person who doesn’t deserve it, then we might introduce the emotion of resentment and try to take what is not ours. Even though we might not actually do this, we may fantasize about doing it which is equally bad for our own well-being.

There are many more unhealthy painful emotions: boredom, loneliness, sadness, remorse, to name a few. In the near future I will be putting up a long list of healthy painful emotions that you can use a guide for knowing what emotions are healthy if though they hurt.

I hope this has brought some clarity to the notion that healthy emotions are also painful. Painful doesn’t mean they are they are bad for us. Just because they can get polluted by unhealthy emotions doesn’t mean they are bad for us. It only means we need to eliminate the pollution. Of course, this is done by changing our thought life — defeating the Voice.

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