• Colleen Lennon, LCSW

Emotions are Neither Good nor Bad

"Don't be angry." "You should always be happy." "You shouldn't let other people know when you are sad." "It's not okay to feel like this." “I shouldn’t be feeling this way.” Emotions are often categorized into either good or bad and there is often also a judgment based on the label given. Typically, such emotions as anger, jealousy, sadness, or frustration are considered "bad," while emotions such as happiness, joy, love, or excitement are considered "good." However, we are doing ourselves a huge injustice by categorizing emotions. Emotions are not good or bad, they just are. For the most part, our emotions are an automatic reaction, something we have little control over or have the ability to stop from happening. Emotions help us to understand ourselves and situations, make decisions, and often play a large part in our behaviors, actions, and interactions with others.

All emotions are okay and should be felt, it is the reaction or behavior that comes from those emotions that can be considered "good" or "bad," or “healthy” or “unhealthy” for ourselves and others in our lives. Emotions happen and are typically out of our control, but what is in our control is how they impact us, how we react to them, and how we in turn behave or act due to our emotions.

Take anger for example. It is perfectly fine to feel anger and it often helps us to identify our boundaries. Boundaries such as what we will and won’t accept in relationships, and situations we do not like to be in. These may all be benefits. Anger is neither good nor bad, but how we react or what we do when we become angry is what can be considered as “good” or “bad.” Say someone says something negative about your work. You can become defensive, start yelling at the person, get frustrated with everyone in your workplace, and possibly make the situation worse. Or you can process what was said and the anger you feel, identify if there was any truth to the comment, and if not, ignore it. If it was true, use it to motivate change.

Let’s also look at happiness, an emotion that is usually identified as “good.” Like anger, there are many benefits to feeling happy, such as enjoying ourselves and those in our lives, identifying what we like to do or participate in, and possibly helping us to find careers or relationships that we find fulfilling and positive. Again, the actual emotion of happiness truly is not good or bad, it is how we react or behave when we are happy that matters. Say you get a promotion at work and feel very happy about it. You could enjoy the attention and feel proud of your accomplishment, feel more fulfilled and motivated at work, and be grateful for the advancement in your career. You could also become very arrogant and boastful, judge and put people down who are now “below” you at work, and possibly ruin relationships.

As you can see from the examples of anger and happiness, emotions should not be labeled as good or bad, but rather the labels belong to their outcomes. All emotions are okay; all behaviors are not. You should never let anyone tell you how you should or shouldn’t feel or that the way you are feeling is good or bad. Everyone has every right to feel all emotions, on all intensity levels, at any time, and for any reason. The important part is how we process our emotions and react to them that truly matters.

Therapy can be a great tool to help you identify your emotions, to understand possible reasons or triggers for your emotions, and to learn more healthy and positive ways to process and react to what you are feeling.

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