Are Emotions Good or Bad?
April 23, 2023 by Sarah Earles, Clinical Supervisor/Child & Family Therapist
How did that make you feel? Good or bad? Not a great question. “What’s wrong with this question?” Someone may ask. Well, good question! What is wrong with this question is that it infers that good and bad are emotions. They are not. Emotions are happy, mad, sad, fear, disgust, and more (Cherry, 2022). These emotions themselves are not inherently good or bad. They just are. What sometimes comes with emotions, for example certain behaviors, is what people deem bad, or maladaptive. This is an important distinction.
The Bible says that in the beginning, God created everything. It also says that God called it good (Gen 1:31). This included man in all of his faculties, including emotions. Jesus had emotions, and he was perfect! He overturned temple tables in anger (Matt 21:12). He wept in sadness over the death of Lazarus (John 11:35). He sweat drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:24). Emotions, then, cannot be bad. Rather, they must at the least, have a good purpose.
Why did God give people emotions? Emotions are messengers that help people stay safe (Black, 2020). Fear keeps people alert for threats to life and limb. Disgust turns people away from consuming foods that may harm them. Sadness indicates loss of something important. Anger shows that something is not right. The emotions themselves are not good or bad. They just are.
So what can a person do to handle emotions in God-honoring ways? Good question. First, the person can seek to gain awareness of emotions and responses to them. As Ann Kelley (2021) says, “All feelings are welcome, but not all behaviors are helpful.” Learning about the emotions underlying unhelpful behaviors such as aggression, substance use, relationship withdrawal and more can do wonders for a person. Second, a person can seek to gain coping skills to help them deal with the emotions. The person may do this by reading books, talking with a pastor, attending therapy, behavior coaching, or mentoring. Third, a person can practice releasing emotions in healthy ways in safe settings. This might look like journaling, talking to a friend, more therapy, or joining a self-help group. Can a person ever cope with emotions perfectly? No, but a person can learn to repent of unhealthy coping mechanisms and seek to operate in better ways going forward.
The existence of emotions is good. The emotions themselves are neutral. What people do with them matters, though. It would behoove everyone to examine their emotional responses, see which responses need work, and seek to attend to those needs in healthy ways.
Black, E. (2020, March 20). Emotions are messengers. Dr. Emma Black clinical psychologist.
Cherry, K. (2022, February 25). Emotions and types of emotional responses. Very well mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-are-emotions-2795178#toc-types-of-emotions
Kelley, A. (Host). (2021, December 22). Managing intense feelings for kids and grownups with Lindsey Kealey. (No. 165). In Therapist Uncensored.