We live in a world where it’s natural to put things into categories: good vs. bad, healthy vs. unhealthy, strong vs. weak, happy vs. sad, positive vs. negative, and so on. While categories can be helpful at times, they can also create an inflexible and judgmental way of appraising both ourselves and other people.
A great example of categorizing and judging in mental health is labeling emotions as positive or negative. Positive emotional experiences bring us joy, happiness, and contentment; they’re the ones we strive to feel, the ones we want to hold on to and savor. In contrast, emotions we label negative tend to be pushed away, ignored, diminished, avoided, and removed from our experiences.
Many of us have been taught and conditioned to believe “negative” emotions are problematic and are linked with having a flawed character, being ungrateful, or having something wrong with us.
In reality, emotions are neutral—they are simply pieces of data, and they are neither good nor bad. Emotional experiences show us what we need to pay attention to in our lives, within ourselves, our relationships, or our experiences. Emotional responses also give us information about how we are reacting to our inner world and outer experiences.