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Primary Emotions in Practice

Primary Emotion Pairs

The primary emotions defined in my article called The Six Primary Emotions do not exist in perfect isolation. On the contrary, they interact like crazy. To illustrate some of these interactions, I will look at the primary emotions in pairs – first in their horizontal pairs of opposites, and then in some vertical pairings. I will try to be systematic, but some of the pairs are so closely linked that I will inevitably mention emotions other than those under the spotlight at the time.

I have previously (in The Six Primary Emotions - see link above) discussed the way in which each of the horizontal pairings could be conceptualised as the obverse and reverse of a single coin – creating the simplest possible example of the concept of duality. Duality is discussed in more detail in my article called, not very surprisingly, Duality, so I will not say much about it here, although I might refer to it from time to time.

Hope and Fear

The first pair of primary emotions, hope and fear, is the immediate effect of a significant degree of wanting. Both hope and fear are present at the same time. However, they are often present to different degrees – and sometimes, one is so much more prominent than the other, that only one is noticed.

The simultaneous presence of opposites, each making a contribution to what is felt, applies to all three pairs of primary emotions, of course – and also to their components and their derivatives. But in the case of hope and fear, I find this "Siamese twin" phenomenon more striking than with any other pair. Their joint effect, which is the compound emotion anxiety[29] (as discussed very briefly in my article Compound Emotions) can usually be found quite close to the surface, even when one or the other opposite predominates.

Even when the outcome is known, hope and fear do not entirely leave the stage. If the outcome is the one that was wanted, there will usually be some residual anxiety due to the hope that the desired outcome will persist, and the fear that it will change. And if the outcome is the one that was not wanted, there will usually be some residual anxiety due to the hope that the outcome will change, and the fear that it will persist.

Incidentally, as hope and fear constitute the first step that follows wanting, and as that step is virtually instantaneous, some authors ignore wanting itself, and take hope and fear as the starting point for their discussions of emotions. Also, as either hope or fear guarantees at least a little of its opposite, other authors take fear alone as their starting point. They could just as well start with hope alone, but I have not seen that done.

Happiness and Sadness

Happiness and sadness is the next pair of opposite primary emotions, and it is so closely linked with the third pair, propathy and antipathy, that it is difficult to discuss one pair without mentioning the other. When the outcome we await occurs, we often feel either happiness and propathy, or sadness and antipathy – depending on what that outcome is.

If it is the outcome we want, we experience happiness and (mainly when a human agency brought about the happiness) propathy. If it is the outcome we don't want, we experience sadness and (often even in the absence of a human agency) antipathy. Note that the opposite member of each pair has not actually disappeared. It is waiting patiently in case the outcome changes. But, meanwhile, it may not be affecting us very much.

Propathy and Antipathy

Propathy and antipathy is the third and last pair of opposite primary emotions. As discussed above, it travels in company with the preceding pair, happiness and sadness – and either the left hand member of each pair, or the right hand member of each pair, often go together – according to the outcome.

If it is the outcome we want, then (mainly when a human agency is perceived to have brought about the happiness) we experience propathy as well as happiness. If it is the outcome we don't want, then (often even in the absence of any perception that a human agency was involved) we experience antipathy as well as sadness. Again, the opposite member of each pair has not actually disappeared, but may not be affecting us very much for the time being.

You may have noticed that the text under this heading is almost identical to that under the previous heading. That simply reflects the reality. When considering happiness and sadness, propathy and antipathy are also involved. And when considering propathy and antipathy, happiness and sadness are also involved.

Happiness and Propathy

As you can see, happiness and propathy are vertically oriented on the Wanterfall Chart – instead of horizontally, like the previous three pairs. A possible description of the lower left hand side of the Wanterfall Chart, where happiness and propathy are found, would be "happiness, sometimes with propathy added; plus the ghosts of fear and hope, waiting in the wings, ready to pounce again at any time".

This corner of the Wanterfall Chart has to do with getting what you want, not getting what you don't want, losing what you wanted to lose or not getting back what you hoped would stay lost. All of this is the same thing, as far as the emotions are concerned, and it is generally referred to as a gain. It could be the gain of something wanted, or the loss of something unwanted – but either way, we usually think of it as a gain.

Most of us don't have much difficulty coping with this part of the chart, indeed we like most aspects of it better than anything else that we know. We certainly like getting what we want. And when we direct propathy at another person, it is because we are happy, credit them with at least part of the cause of that happiness, and therefore feel pleased with them.

When another person directs propathy at us, we bask happily in those warm, fuzzy rays, because it feels good. However, the conditional nature of every part of the Wanterfall, and the gratitude (see below) often associated with this corner of it, are usually lurking somewhere nearby. There is nothing on the Wanterfall Chart which is not capable of causing mischief – depending entirely on the conditions.

Sadness and Antipathy

Still vertically oriented, we now find sadness and antipathy at the bottom right hand side of the Wanterfall Chart. In this case, perhaps the best description would be "sadness, usually with antipathy added; plus the ghosts of hope and fear, waiting in the wings, ready to pounce again at any time".

This corner of the Wanterfall Chart has to do with not getting what you want, getting what you don't want, losing what you wanted to keep or getting back what you hoped would stay lost. All of this is the same thing, as far as the emotions are concerned, and it is generally called a loss. Even if it is the gain of something unwanted, we usually think of it as a loss.

There are some special names for particular examples of loss or the response to it. When we consider a loss important, we call it a great loss or a terrible loss, and we call the response to it grief. If the loss is the death of a loved one, we call the loss a bereavement, while still calling the response to it grief.

On the other hand, if a loss is not considered very significant, the response might be called being upset, feeling sad or feeling distressed. And if the response to a minor loss seems excessive to the observer, it might be called self-pity – which carries the implication that the person should stop making a fuss, get used to it, get over it, be strong, forget about it and so on.[30]

Although grief in response to loss is a simple concept, the actual experience is quite complex. This is discussed more fully under The Healing of Emotions. However, I will include a brief outline of it here. Firstly, while happiness and propathy usually follow immediately upon getting what you do want, there is often a significant delay before sadness and antipathy occur, after getting what you don't want.

Especially when the distress is overwhelming, as in the death of a loved one, or a serious personal injury or illness, it may not "sink in" for some time. This is variously referred to as denial, shockor numbness, and it causes a postponement of the more obvious aspects of grieving.

During the transition to an acceptance that the loss is real, two other things may occur. The first is searching for an alternative explanation (or sometimes, physically searching for a person who has died). The second is a sort of virtual bargaining – trying to make a deal, mentally, with any power the bereaved person considers might possibly exist.

When the reality of the loss is no longer in doubt, which may be intermittent at first, the sadness and antipathy shown on the Wanterfall Chart take centre stage – sometimes gradually and sometimes suddenly. Often, antipathy is more evident at first, and sadness is more evident when the antipathy begins to subside. However, this varies, and the two may occur together, or in the opposite order. They may also recur at random, and at anniversaries – sometimes for many years.

Incidentally, the above sketch of the basic phenomena active in grief did not include the most important factor – the person who is grieving. Personal resources and prior experience have a number of very important effects on the grieving process. However, the purpose of these brief notes is simply to put sadness and antipathy in context. A fuller discussion of grief will be found under The Healing of Emotions.


Suppressed Emotions

Emotions are often difficult to discuss, or even to think clearly about, because most of us, to varying degrees, have been taught in early childhood to be quiet about them, to be ashamed of them, or both. Many of us have also learned by bitter experience that it is best to hide our feelings from relatives, friends and colleagues, lest they be used as weapons to hurt us. And all of us have at least noticed that we prefer some emotions to others.

For these reasons, we often try to ignore some or all of our emotions – or, failing that, to control them. If this also fails, we generally "push them to the back of the mind". This is called suppression. It can be, or become, unconscious, in which case it is called repression.

When either suppression or repression prevents the normal expression of one or more emotions, effectively keeping them imprisoned in the subconscious or unconscious mind, they are sometimes loosely described as "blocked" or "bottled up".

When emotions are thus imprisoned, it is sometimes suggested that they may become "distorted" in a way which makes their effects even worse than they were originally. This idea goes back at least as far as William Shakespeare[31], but probably much further. It is also found in many types of psychotherapy.

A rather fanciful analogy could be made with the way in which any hollow part of the human body tends to become infected if what it contains is bottled up by an obstruction. This often leads to an abscess, which may prove dangerous if it ruptures internally. On the other hand, healing usually follows external drainage, whether spontaneous or surgical. Sometimes, infection which has already spread to adjacent tissue, or perhaps further afield, may also need treatment.

In the terms of this analogy, bottled up emotions might be thought of as forming an emotional abscess. If not drained externally by emotional expression, this abscess might be a danger to its owner, through its adverse influence on the mind as a whole. But whether or not there is any truth in this idea, it is interesting to consider the possible effects of inadequate expression of the six primary emotions discussed above.[32]

If hope were strongly suppressed, the usual balance of hope and fear might lean towards pessimism and despair. Also, if it were not possible to hope to emulate another person's good fortune, the alternatives of jealousy and envy, perhaps with an urge to destroy what one cannot hope to have, might come to the fore.

If fear were strongly suppressed, appropriate caution might also go missing, with potentially dangerous results. If a specific fear were suppressed, a general sense of free-floating apprehension might remain, and might be felt as anxiety. Alternatively, one could imagine that fear which is very much bottled up might also manifest as a phobia.

If happiness were strongly suppressed, the result might be "killjoy" or "wet blanket" behaviour, which makes life less pleasant for all involved. A "poor me" approach to life could also develop, perhaps even precipitating or exacerbating a depressive episode in a susceptible person.

If sadness were strongly suppressed it might prevent normal grieving, leading to pathological grief. It is conceivable that sadness which is bottled up for a long time might also make some contribution to a depressive disorder in susceptible individuals.

If propathy were strongly suppressed, it might result in a cold and uninvolved personality, making affectionate relationships difficult or impossible. This, however, should not be confused with a reduced susceptibility to propathy consequent upon an understanding of its conditional nature.

If antipathy were strongly suppressed, it might interfere with normal grieving in a similar way to the suppression of sadness, again leading to pathological grief. It is also conceivable that antipathy which is bottled up for a long time might find an expression as judgmental behaviour or even cruelty. And if it were blended with suppressed fear, and the mixture then incubated, the result could perhaps be hatred.

Finally, if feelings in general are so overwhelming that they are all pushed out of consciousness together, we might be left with apathy. This word shares one parent with both propathy and antipathy, which by derivation suggest "for" feelings and "against" feelings – whereas the derivation of apathy suggests an absence of feelings (which is indeed one of its meanings).

However, when used in this sense, apathy really points to a lack of any apparent feelings – as well as, usually, a lack of any apparent interest in the outcomes that might influence feelings. Apathy is a mask that can hide considerable emotional pain. Sometimes, the pain has been driven into hiding precisely because it is so great – too great to bear.


(Click the number of a footnote to return to its reference in the text)

[29] The emotion anxiety must not be confused with the anxiety disorders, which have anxiety as a common feature, but have many other features as well. Anxiety also has very significant physiological and physical concomitants. These matters are discussed in the draft publication An Introduction to Mental Illness, but work on this draft has been delayed and may not proceed.

[30] As we will see in Section 4, there is always a reason for an apparently excessive response, and being told to be strong and forget it is not helpful.

[31] "Give sorrow words: the grief that does not speak
Whispers the o'er-fraught heart and bids it break."

Malcolm, in Macbeth, IV, iii.

[32] These and many other ideas are derived from the work of Martha Barham, PhD (see footnote to Original under What This Book is Not).

(Click the number of a footnote to return to its reference in the text)


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