Lawrence E. Kincade, Ph.D., LCSW > Feelings Just Are


Are Feelings Good?  Are Feelings Bad?

 

To put it clearly:  they are neither.  That's right, feelings - any feeling and all feelings - are neither good nor bad.  They are neither blameworthy nor deserving of praise.  They are neither immoral nor virtuous.  They are not right.  They are not wrong.  They just are.  That's the first thing to know about feelings.  Feelings just come to you on their own.  To say to yourself, "I shouldn't have this feeling of anger!" makes as much sense as saying to yourself, "I shouldn't have these brown eyes."  In both cases, you have no choice.

Of course, the primary dimension of feelings is an experienced sensation of a degree of pleasantness or unpleasantness.  They can cause pain or happiness and there are some feelings we want and others we try very hard to avoid.  There are positive feelings and negative feelings.  So, you might "feel bad" or "feel good" but the feelings are neither bad or good, in themselves, and you are not bad or good for having the feelings.

Why belabor a point that seems so self-evident?  Because we often act like we don't understand it.  Too often we beat up on ourselves just for having negative feelings.  And, this can lead to low self-esteem and a crippling self-hatred.  We may feel guilty, for example, when we become aware of feeling envy or hatred or jealousy or wanting to get even.  Those feelings, again, just are.  They come uninvited and they cannot be "sent packing" by a pure act of will.

Another way to explain this is in terms of morality:  the rightness or wrongness of something.  Feelings are not morally good nor morally bad.  They are not sinful nor virtuous.  They are, in essence, pre-moral.  Some religious traditions name the "seven deadly sins":  pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth.  From a religious perspective these words can represent sinful ("deadly") actions, but they can also represent non-sinful, pre-moral feelings, a very important distinction.

But, of course, this isn't the whole story with feelings.  Responsibility and morality certainly do enter your feeling life.  But, they enter only when you decide to act on what you feel.  At that point you must be accountable to yourself and to the greater community for what you do with the feeling. 

Responsibility and accountability do not apply to experiencing the feeling, no matter what the feeling is.  They do apply to the behavior and to the actions which result from the feeling. 

One important exception.  In the long run, situations occur in which you do have to take responsibility ("the ability to respond") just for having feelings.  And that is when you wallow, as it were, in a negative feeling, so as to prolong it:  when you enjoy your hatred so much that you intentionally hold on to it; when you take shelter in your jealousy and "set up house there;" when you cultivate your ability to "fly into a rage".  But, these situations should not be difficult to distinguish from the other, more common ones.  Trust your ability to discern one from the other.