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Can Bad Emotions Be Good for You?

How to put your bad emotions to good use

Dan Kosmayer/AdobeStock
Source: Dan Kosmayer/AdobeStock

Wherever I teach in the world, I find people were raised to show only good emotions and hide the others. We were told that good leaders, good friends, and good parents show optimism, enthusiasm, compassion, pride, and a good sense of humor.

We also learned that emotions such as disappointment, fear, anger, and guilt drain everyone’s energy, hurt other’s feelings, and spoil a good time. They are called negative or bad emotions. You should keep them to yourself.

I would like you to consider a different view of emotions. All emotions are a part of your human experience. You can’t experience joy without sorrow, peace without anger, and courage without fear. Life is richer when we allow ourselves to move through the dark as well as the light. The late Israeli leader Golda Meir said, “Those who don’t know how to weep with their whole hearts don’t know how to laugh either.”

All humans in every culture laugh, cry, and express emotions through facial expressions and posture. We cry, we kiss, we groom each other, we bicker, we defend, we cuddle, we console, we beam with pride, and we beat ourselves up with shame based on our needs to connect socially and be appreciated by others.

Your emotions affect your communications. When people can’t read you, they don’t feel safe to share what is on their mind or they become agitated for no apparent reason. If you are good at hiding your emotions, you create the experience of talking to a blank wall, which creates anger, frustration, or fear in others. If people sense you are angry, afraid, or disappointed, they may feel angry or afraid in response. Poker faces confuse more than calm others.

Additionally, nonpositive emotions can motivate productive behavior. They might trigger great change when channeled in positive directions. It is better to learn to recognize your emotions, so you can use them to explain your behavior and express your needs, and to channel your energy in a positive direction.

Put your nonpositive emotions to good use

Let’s look at the light side of a few dark emotions. Keep in mind that your reactions to these emotions could be destructive. Other times these emotions serve a higher purpose.

  • Guilt – Stanford University researchers Rebecca Schaumberg and Francis Flynn found leaders who showed a tendency to feel guilt were rated as the best leaders on 360 degree-feedback assessments.1 Guilt may motivate a desire to do well and make decisions beneficial for the group even if at a personal cost. The light side of guilt is compassion, care, and generosity.
  • Anger – You might use your anger to launch a big change in your life. Many great things have happened based on the power of, "Oh yeah, I’ll show you.” If the anger prompts you to speak up when uncomfortable, to take a step into the unknown, or to prove you can accomplish something you weren’t sure you could, then anger is a force for good. The light side of anger is passion, courage, and determination.
  • Fear – When your brain senses a threat, your ability to focus is heightened. Many people say they work better under pressure. In truth, their creative capacity weakens, but they better block out distractions, hone in on the task at hand, and work faster. You should work this way in spurts so you don’t burn out, but the light side of fear is focus, intensity, and alertness.
  • Disappointment – When you don’t get what you expect from your work, people, and even yourself, you might feel angry and disappointed. What didn’t you get that you really wanted, or that you thought was promised to you? What did you hope or dream for? What are you not getting from the situation that you need, such as respect, achievement, or autonomy? When you discover what you expected to get, you might ask for what you need. If you realize your dream won’t come true as you had hoped, you might allow yourself a few days to grieve the loss so you can then move on. The light side of disappointment is the ability to accept what is and then move through suffering to freedom or discern what you need to ask for to move forward.
  • Boredom – Boredom can reflect a lack of challenge, meaning you need more to stimulate your mind. Sometimes it’s good to peacefully do nothing for short spurts so your brain has a recovery break. Other times, boredom can be a sign you are not fully utilizing your strengths. When researching my book, Wander Woman, I found many people feel a soulful agitation that can lead them to accomplishing great things. When you feel bored, try to envision your desired future instead of allowing yourself to be distracted by what is in front of you. Consider talking to a coach or good friend who supports your journey to help define the world you are seeking to create for yourself. Your bouts of boredom and restlessness may not end, but at least you have a vision or purpose to pursue as you wander. The light side of boredom can be found when you are prompted to take on new challenges, explore what makes work meaningful, and make decisions that serve your strengths and dreams.

Take time every day to pause and ask yourself how you are feeling and what you need to do differently, if anything. If you are stuck, seek help to uncover the source. Then you may be able to determine how you can channel what you feel to a positive outcome.


1. Rebecca L. Schaumberg and Francis J. Flynn. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown: The link between guilt-proneness and leadership. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. August 2012, Vol. 103, Issue 2, 327–342.