Calling any emotions negative shows you don’t understand emotions

June 10, 2014 by Joshua
in Evolutionary Psychology, Nature

Look at your body in the mirror.

Is the human body not a wonder of evolution? Do you see anything extraneous? I don’t. It seems efficient. What our species didn’t need evolved away. What’s left is essential. Take anything away from the human body and our ancestors might not have survived and you might not have been born. Our ancestors had competition from similar species for the same resources, so our particular anatomy is likely best suited to its purpose than anything close.

Would you call any part of your body negative or bad?

If someone suggested that your hand, because you can clench it into a fist and hit someone with it, was a negative body part you’d probably consider that stupid. The hand does a lot of things, nearly all helpful. Just because it can do something that could hurt someone doesn’t make it negative or bad. Even when used to hurt someone, it can help, like in self-defense or in sports or martial arts.

What about pain receptors? Why don’t we call them bad or negative because they make us feel pain. While we don’t like to feel pain, we know that it teaches us to protect ourselves from burns, cuts, and so on.

You can run down the list—hair, fingernails, toenails, appendix, tonsils, wisdom teeth, etc—all helped our ancestors survive, enabling us to be born. Calling any of them negative or bad only shows ignorance of their function.

Our ancestors evolved behavior too, not just anatomy, meaning they evolved motivations, meaning they evolved emotions, including all the emotions you have. Your emotional system is as efficient as your anatomy and each emotion as essential to your ancestors’ survival.

To call anger, rage, hate, or any other emotion bad or negative is like calling your hand or pain receptors negative or bad.

You could argue that our environment has changed since those emotions evolved. Emotions that helped ancestors a hundred thousand years ago might be counterproductive in today’s environment. While I would first argue that if that argument suggested anything was bad or negative, it would be the environment we created for ourselves today, not the emotions that enabled us to populate the planet in about 50,000 years without even the plow or any more recent technology. What other species succeeded so well?

But I don’t need that argument. I prefer to point out something more useful. If you agree that the hand, despite that you can make a fist and hurt someone with it, has helpful functions and so isn’t bad or negative, you can see that any emotion you inherited from your ancestors has helpful functions and so isn’t bad or negative.

If you can’t see the value of an emotion you have, I suggest you don’t understand it enough and that your ignorance is causing you to deny and shun essential parts of yourself. Think of people in denial and how that denial contorts their life. Like someone denying the existence of something they don’t like, you perpetuate what you don’t like instead of doing something about it or using it to your advantage, creating guilt, shame, and related emotions where there were none you probably don’t enjoy either.

If instead of calling them negative or bad you learn to understand them, you can use them to improve your life.

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