Poets, wise men and women, and philosophers have been exploring the depths of human emotions as far back as we can research. There are odes to every human emotion imaginable.
But the reality is that there are only two primary human emotions.
Love and Fear.
All the other “emotions” – both positive and negative – are expressions of one of those two basic feelings. (And by the way, that’s not just my opinion. There’s been a bunch of research done on the subject.)
Love is expressed through positive emotions such as love, joy, happiness, excitement, compassion, and even grief.
Fear can be seen underlying negative emotions such as anger, frustration, sadness, anxiety, and shame.
But, I hear you protest, those are all different emotions. Fear is fear, not anger or frustration.
Let me give you an example.
I had a conversation with a friend and former client about this subject just last week. She wanted to know how embarrassment about someone else’s behavior could possibly be based in fear.
Let’s explore that.
When you are embarrassed or irritated by someone else’s behavior, these types of fears might be driving your irritation:
- If you are closely associated with the person (they are a family member or close friend), you could be afraid that others will judge you for the person’s behavior.
- You could subconsciously be afraid that you exhibit that same behavior at times.
- Their behavior might remind you of someone who is or was threatening to you. You might see that behavior as a warning sign of danger.
- You could be afraid of being seen as condoning the behavior if you don’t speak up against it.
I could go on.
Fear is an insidious and very useful emotion that is at the core of our instinct to survive.
When we are in survival mode (i.e. – experiencing negative emotions), we are usually experiencing fear in some way.
When we are angry, we are often feeling threatened or defensive of someone else who is being threatened.
When we are anxious, we are afraid of what might happen in the future.
It’s really important to remember that when you or someone else is experiencing a negative emotion, there is an underlying fear they are experiencing.
Does that perspective help you? It has helped me a lot!!
It’s a lot easier to deal with someone who is angry with me if I understand that under the anger, there’s a strong fear of something. It somehow makes him or her seem more human and vulnerable.
For instance, when your co-worker is angry at you, you can ask yourself why they feel threatened. That way, the anger feels less threatening to you, you are able to have more empathy for the other person, and you’re more likely to approach them constructively.
My challenge this week is for you to pay attention to your own emotions. When you are experiencing a negative emotion (excluding grief), stop. Take several deep breaths. Then, ask yourself: “What am I afraid of?”
Let me know what you discover!