All Emotions Are Equal In The Eyes Of Evolution

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The regulation of emotions through drugs and talk therapy is a multi-billion dollar industry whose success can in large part be attributed to the culturally agreed upon fallacy that some emotions are good while others are bad. There’s no question that some are subjectively preferable to others, that some are pleasant and therefore wanted while others are unpleasant and therefore unwanted, but all emotions are equal in the eyes of evolution.

What we mean is that the emotional repertoire is a function of natural selection, that the unwanted, unpleasant emotional states had and still have survival value. That’s why they made the cut rather than falling by the wayside. Fear, disgust, sadness, anger, shame – we might not like experiencing these emotions but they give us quick, vital information about the environment in which we find ourselves, information that can help us navigate our surroundings and make the correct decisions. In our evolutionary past these correct decisions were predominantly for our physical survival and now they’re predominantly for our social survival, though of course our physical survival is still often on the line too.

From our therapeutic perspective if talk therapy has a use in the realm of emotions it’s to increase emotional intelligence, to help people come to terms with the fact that all of their emotions serve useful functions in their lives and the real key is to tune in, to recognize those important emotional messages and use them as tools in the tool belt. From this perspective all of the emotions, pleasant and unpleasant, can be valued equally and actually appreciated rather than disdained. The irony is that a large share of emotional pain in life is due to feeling bad about feeling bad, due to putting a negative judgement on certain emotions rather than accepting them for what they are, due to trading the primary emotions for the secondary emotions.