Ugly Feelings

Image Credit: Ellen Nugent

Joy. Fear. Panic. Excitement.

Emotions are a fundamental part of our lives. Be it in the peaceful streams of happiness or the raging currents of anger, they are felt and experienced. I’m really curious as to how we react to emotions in ourselves and in other people. What are the feelings that we deem permissible in ourselves? What are the emotions that might intimidate us in other people? What are the emotions we seek after and the very ones we shun?

It’s easy to shy away from the more unpleasant emotions and perhaps not have the language for them. However, it’s one thing to shy away from ugly feelings and it’s another thing to completely deny them. We can pretend they don’t exist and omit them from conversations but I don’t believe that that makes them less poignant. I think most people can relate to being told they shouldn’t be jealous or angry or any of the emotions that would paint one to be immoral or a bad person. I think we have the impression that some emotions are completely evil and bare no moral serving and I don’t know if I agree.

I personally hate the feeling of anger. It’s a really taxing and consuming emotion but I think anger can manifest itself in various forms for many people. It isn’t always visible, or explosive. It doesn’t have to be an engulfing wave captivating anything in its immediacy. Sometimes it can be indistinguishable and or a still wave - indistinguishable to others but causing an impact nonetheless. I think anger in all its forms, like every emotion, should be treated with caution yet still acknowledged as an emotion and not treated as a litmus test for maturity or morality. I don’t think it should be demonised either.
Sometimes I think about disappointment and how it’s become the false equivalence of gratitude. Those situations where we can be disturbed by a particular outcome but don’t allow it to linger too much because
‘we have so much to be grateful for’ or because ‘it could’ve been worse’. I think that’s a false equivalence. It’s reductionist and does not allow for the nuanced array of feelings we experience. I think positive thoughts don’t have to be a cognitive disservice. They can exist in their own right and not as a shield.

Sometimes acknowledging some uncomfortable emotions can be essential to detect other uplifting emotions. Emotions hardly exist in isolation, they exist in a myriad of other things. That’s why I think telling people not to simply not ‘be’, in relation to emotions, doesn’t give account for so many other factors. How does one react to injustice or pain? Stoicism is not a realistic expectation nor is it the more intellectual option but it somehow is treated as if it is.

I wouldn’t enter the realm of extremism or advocate for people to act out harmful or dangerous thoughts based on supposed emotions. I’m just more interested in how we interact with unpleasant feelings. I’ve heard jealousy described as a harmful emotion and I agree. I think it can be harmful because of the effect it can have, but perhaps jealousy can be used to our effect when we recognise the emotion and become more self-aware of our actions when it is present. In one instance this emotion, like hidden weeds, can be detrimental yet can also bud into flowers. It doesn’t have to be a twisted and diabolical thing. Rather than being consumed and imagining the downfall of others, similar to disappointment, jealousy can be a motivator to work harder and to strive for better outcomes.

There are healthy ways to channel emotions. I don’t think they need to be channelled in a destructive way. I don’t think outbursts are the answer but I think people are allowed to feel natural emotions. People can learn how to deal and communicate with these emotions but not without acknowledging them or feeling shame because of them. I think it would make more sense to sit with the unpleasant emotion and see what it’s teaching you. Sometimes emotions don’t teach us anything, there is no hidden message and that’s fine too - we can still see where the currents bring us or what the weeds grow into.

I love how nature is a perfect balance of imperfection. The ugly and absurd elements exist in tandem with the beautiful and everything in between. Nature presents an effortlessly balanced ecosystem. I wonder if we can find a more congruent balance in expressing our emotions and welcoming those of other