Thank you so much, commenters and Facebook pals! We did a great job with our first four emotions, and now I’d appreciate your help with the emotions Shame & Guilt, Jealousy & Envy, and the Suicidal Urge. Jealousy & Envy are especially difficult, because they’ve been mashed together in our language as if they’re the same emotion!
We’ll start with a social emotion that has a ton of words associated with it. As you read, let me know: Do all of these words work for you? Have I missed a perfect word?
The Single Emotion Called Shame and Guilt
In the book, I take the word guilt out of the equation pretty quickly, because I see it as a weasel word in relation to shame. I know I’m unusual in this respect, but I’m not on a wild-eyed crusade to rid the English language of the word guilt! However, I do want to bring up the subject here so that readers won’t be confused by my inclusion of the word guilt in these lists.
Here’s an excerpt from The Language of Emotions on guilt and shame:
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GUILT AND SHAME
In my early teens, I read a popular self-help book that branded guilt and shame as “useless” emotions. The book presented the idea that we’re all perfect, and therefore shouldn’t ever be guilt-ridden or ashamed of anything we do. That idea seemed very strange to me, so I went to the dictionary and looked up “guiltless” and “shameless” and found that neither state is anything to celebrate. To be guiltless means to be free of mark or experience, as if you’re a blank slate. It’s not a sign of intelligence or growth, because guiltlessness exists only in people who have not yet lived. To be shameless means to be senseless, uncouth, and impudent. It’s a very marked state of being out of control, out of touch, and exceedingly self-absorbed; therefore, shamelessness lives only in people who don’t have any relational skills. Both states – guiltlessness and shamelessness – helped me understand the intrinsic value of guilt and shame.
Fascinatingly, in a dictionary definition, guilt isn’t even an emotional state at all — it’s actually the knowledge and acknowledgment of wrongdoing. Guilt is a state of circumstance: you’re either guilty or not guilty in relation to the legal or moral code you value. You cannot feel guilty, because guilt is a concrete state — not an emotional one! Your feelings are almost irrelevant; if you do something wrong, you’re guilty, and it doesn’t matter if you’re happy, angry, fearful, or depressed about it. When you don’t do something wrong, you’re not guilty. Feelings don’t enter into the equation at all. The only way you could possibly ever feel guilty is if you don’t quite remember committing an offense (“I feel like I might be guilty, but I’m not sure.”). No, what you feel is shame. Guilt is a factual state, while shame is an emotion.
Shame is the natural emotional consequence of guilt and wrongdoing. If we don’t know that and don’t welcome our authentic shame, we’ll be unable to moderate our our own behavior. We’ll continually do things we know are wrong — and we won’t have the strength to stop ourselves. In our never-ending shamelessness, we’ll offend and offend and offend without pause — we’ll always be guilty — because nothing will wake us to our effect on the world.
Guilt is a factual state, not an emotional one. You’re either guilty or not guilty. If you’re not guilty, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. However, if you are guilty, and you want to know what to do about the fact of your guilt, then you’ve got to learn to work with the information shame brings to you.
Okay, now that I’ve made that clear, forget it, because the word guilt will never leave our emotional vocabulary. It’s far simpler for people to use the weasel phrase “I feel guilty” rather than the more honest emotive phrase “I feel ashamed.” Let’s work on this following list so that we can have a more precise vocabulary for shame!
Hesitant ~ Flushed ~ Self-conscious ~ Speechless ~ Discomfited ~ Awkward ~ Humble ~ Reticent ~ Abashed ~ Flustered ~ Withdrawn
Ashamed ~ Guilty ~ Embarrassed ~ Intimidated ~ Penitent ~ Regretful ~ Remorseful ~ Chagrined ~ Culpable ~ Reproachful ~ Sheepish ~ Rueful ~ Contrite
Humiliated ~ Guilt-ridden ~ Guilt-stricken ~ Disgraced ~ Stigmatized ~ Mortified ~ Self-condemning ~ Self-flagellating ~ Degraded ~ Shamefaced
Here is The Gifts of Shame post to help you understand the positive aspects of shame. The practice for shame is to understand it as anger toward yourself, hopefully for something you’ve actually done wrong — which means you can make amends and change your behavior. In the book, I call this kind of shame “appropriate shame,” because it relates to something real and fixable: If your shame is appropriate, it will stop you from doing something you shouldn’t, and it will help you change your behavior and make amends.
However, there is another form of shame that I call “applied shame,” which comes from the shaming messages you pick up from others and incorporate into your life. Applied shame can be pretty toxic (especially if it relates to you not being good enough, smart enough, lovable enough, etc.), and the work in the book helps you identify applied shame and work through it so that you can get yourself into a better relationship with your authentic shame. Yay!!
The Unique Emotions Called Jealousy and Envy
In the book, I describe jealousy and envy as distinct but related emotional states:
Jealousy and envy are separate emotional states, yet they carry similar information: Jealousy arises in response to unfaithfulness or deceit in an intimate relationship, while envy arises in response to the unfair distribution of resources or recognition. Both contain a mixture of boundary-protecting anger (including hatred – so check your shadow!) and intuitive fear. Both exist to help you set or restore lost boundaries after they’ve assessed an authentic risk to your security or your position. If you can honor these two emotions, they’ll contribute tremendous stability to your personality and your relationships.
If your jealousy flows healthfully, you won’t appear obsessively jealous or possessive — rather, your natural intuition and clear boundaries will help you instinctively choose and retain trustworthy mates and friends. Similarly, if your envy flows freely, you won’t appear openly envious or greedy — instead, your internal security will allow you to celebrate the gains and recognitions of others (even when they’re undeserved) without ignoring your own need for gain and recognition. However, if you suppress your jealousy and envy, you’ll have trouble identifying or relating to reliable companions, and you (and everyone around you) will be disrupted by your disastrous attempts to bolster your self-respect and security by denouncing everyone else’s and grabbing everything you can get your hands on.
I call jealousy and envy the “sociological emotions” because they help us understand and brilliantly navigate our social world. Very few people share this view; our culture pathologizes most difficult emotions, but jealousy and envy seem to be targeted more universally than others. People who express these emotions are rarely honored; they are often called insanely jealous or green-eyed monsters, which throws these emotions into the shadows. That’s never a good idea, especially in regard to emotions that carry intuitive and protective information. Both jealousy and envy arise when you’ve detected a risk to your social and personal security. Shutting them down is like throwing a noisy smoke alarm out the window before finding out why it went off! When you stifle your jealousy and envy, you not only lose your awareness of the situations that brought them forward, but you lose your emotional agility, your instincts, and your ability to navigate through your social world and your relationships.
Okay, we know the difference between jealousy and envy, but most people lump the two together. In most dictionaries envy and jealousy are treated as synonyms for each other. I don’t like to squish them together like this, but the fact is that our vocabulary choices for these two unique emotions are completely intertwined (and tellingly paltry — I’d say that we do not want to own up to these emotions!).
Soft Jealousy and Envy
Suspicious ~ Insecure ~ Distrustful ~ Protective
Mood-State Jealousy and Envy
Jealous ~ Envious ~ Covetous ~ Threatened ~ Demanding ~ Desirous
Intense Jealousy and Envy
Greedy ~ Grasping ~ Green with envy ~ Persistently jealous* ~ Possessive ~ Resentful ~ Threatened ~ Avaricious ~ Gluttonous
*If persistent jealousy is a major stumbling block for you, please look into research psychologist David Buss’s excellent book on the sociological and biological necessity of jealousy: The Dangerous Passion: Why Jealousy is as Necessary as Love and Sex. This is an incredibly eye-opening book that defends jealousy as a natural and accurate emotion – even while it chronicles the horrific abuses caused by the repression and incompetent expression of jealousy. One fascinating finding Buss presents is that follow-up studies on couples who entered therapy to deal with one partner’s “pathological” jealousy uncovered clear instances of hidden infidelity in an overwhelming percentage of the cases (and clear instances of crippling amounts of internal insecurity in the rest). In each case, the jealousy was pointing to a truly endangering situation of external or internal insecurity and acting exactly as it should have – to alert its owner to serious threats to intimacy, mate retention, and social well-being.
Can you add any more words here? These lists are so tiny! If I were the words jealousy and envy, I’d be envious of the vocabulary that other emotions get. Hmmph.
Tracking the Suicidal Urge
Suicidal feelings have a range from lite to intense, but if you are feeling any level of suicidal urges now, don’t feel as if you have to wait until you’re in the throes of torment to reach out for help. As a lifelong sufferer of severe suicidal depressions, I can tell you that if you can learn to catch your suicidal urges when they’re in the lite stage, you can often stop yourself from falling into the pit of desperation and torment. In the territory of the suicidal urge, your capacity for emotional awareness and articulation can literally save your life!
If you’re feeling suicidal here in the the US, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Suicidal feelings can be very isolating, and this lifeline exists to give people the support they need to make it through the dark periods in their lives. If you or anyone you know is feeling suicidal, please let them know that free, safe help is available.
The TALK Lifeline is available in the US; if you’re in another country, the International Association for Suicide Prevention has a list of crisis centers and suicide prevention centers throughout the world.
Soft Suicidal Urges
Depressed ~ Dispirited ~ Constantly irritated, angry, or enraged (see the anger list) ~ Helpless ~ Impulsive ~ Withdrawn ~ Apathetic ~ Lethargic ~ Disinterested ~ Pessimistic ~ Purposeless ~ Discouraged ~ Feeling worthless ~ Isolated ~ World-weary ~ Humorless ~ Listless ~ Melancholy ~ Flat ~ Indifferent
Mood-State Suicidal Urges
Desperate ~ Hopeless ~ Despairing ~ Morbid ~ Sullen ~ Desolate ~ Miserable ~ Overwhelmed ~ Pleasureless ~ Joyless ~ Fatalistic ~ Empty ~ Passionless ~ Bereft
Intense Suicidal Urges
Agonized ~ Tormented ~ Self-destructive ~ Tortured ~ Anguished ~ Bleak ~ Devastated ~ Death-seeking ~ Numbed ~ Reckless
Please remember: when people are feeling suicidal, they’re not having a simple happiness deficiency or exhibiting a character flaw. Something very serious is going on. If you don’t know what to do, you can call the Lifeline suicide hotline as a concerned friend (1-800-273-TALK (8255)), and they’ll help you understand what to do. Here are some ideas from the Lifeline website:
How To Be Helpful to Someone Who Is Threatening Suicide
Be direct. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide.
Be willing to listen. Allow expressions of feelings. Accept the feelings.
Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether feelings are good or bad.
Don’t lecture on the value of life.
Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.
Don’t dare him or her to do it.
Don’t act shocked. This will put distance between you.
Don’t be sworn to secrecy. Seek support.
Offer hope that alternatives are available but do not offer glib reassurance.
Take action. Remove means, such as guns or stockpiled pills.
Get help from persons or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.
Thank you for helping when people are suicidal. Yow, it’s a horrible thing to go through, and most of us isolate ourselves as a function of the trouble. Thank you for reaching out.
Please Suggest Additions and/or Changes to These Vocabulary Lists!
When we’re done, I’ll organize all of our emotion lists into a PDF that you can download from a page of its own.