Destructive Emotions

Destructive Emotions. Psychology Fanatic article header image

Our emotions are in flux; waves moving through the soul, inspiring action, creating the content of felt experience. Joy, disgust, sadness, and anger are not weaknesses but naturally emerge from the vagaries of experience. When we emotionally respond with harshness, hurting our futures, we shouldn’t blame life as an excuse for our rotten behavior. As humans, we are self-empowered; seated in our mind is a power to direct. We can feel intense emotions; but, then choose a productive response. Emotionally motivated choices bless and curse our lives. When those emotions push for maladaptive behaviors, I refer to them as destructive emotions.

We can act against motivational pushes; we are more than a dry leaf carried away by the wind. Housed within the broken soul, tormented by destructive emotions, are morsels of goodness. The hidden wholesomeness requires nurturing. Eventually, with care, the seeds of goodness break through the crusty soil of a sensitive ego, and we discover the missing joys.

​”​Constructive emotions help improve a situation; destructive emotions make it worse.” 

~Gustavo Razzetti  | Fearless Culture

All Emotions Can Spark Destructive  Responses

It’s not the emotion—anger, sadness, frustration. T. Franklin Murphy wrote, “emotions provide an evolutionary advantage. They alert of dangers and push towards rewards. Blindly manipulating emotions—because they don’t feel good—is hazardous. Without honoring the purpose of discomforting emotions, we confuse the biological guidance system” (2020).

Stephanie Camins MA, LPC, explains, “negative emotions typically refer to those that have a negative connotation, i.e. sadness, anger, fear, etc. These emotions are entirely normal to experience and every human does at one point or another. However, when allowed to get out of hand, these emotions can become destructive” (2022).

The power or destruction is determined by our response to the arousal. Even joy can lead us astray if we inappropriately forsake personal values or neglect essential preparations when mindlessly lost in joy.

Basically, a destructive emotion than is not the feeling affect. An emotion becomes destructive when considered with the entirety of the moment. A destructive emotion is a combination of the stimuli, feeling affect, and a maladaptive reaction. We can address these destructive cycles anywhere along the three phases. We can improve harsh environments, soothe disruptive feelings, or implement constructive responses.

Key Definition:

A destructive emotion is a combination of the stimuli, feeling affect, and a maladaptive reaction.

Defense Mechanisms

Many people deviate from healthy living, drifting into self-perpetuating cycles of darkness, justifying actions and repeating maladaptive behaviors. Their misrepresentation of reality limits wisdom. Ego defenses swoop in to protect positive self-images while dismissing soul-destroying paths in need of correction.

​Poor choices accumulate, threatening survival, and provoking anxiety. With occasional glimpses, we see the weight of reality. The broken soul may recognize the destruction, knowing change is needed. Periodically, Life warns, sending crushing messages. Yet, when normalcy has been destroyed and flourishing seems out of reach, we crumble in helplessness. It our disastrous existence, small changes appear insufficient and unrewarding.

The most immediate relief comes from continuing the deceptions, lying about the true condition of our life. Future-destroying pleasures provide escapes from the maladaptive behaviors motivated by the destructive emotions rotting our souls.

​”Emotions occur quickly. We feel that emotions happen to us, not that we chose them. We aren’t witness to the process leading to them and often become aware of them only after they are strong.” 


Learning a Better Response

Change for those caught in downward spirals is difficult. Emotions programmed from pain and chaos are inadequate guides. The past is jumbled. Destructive emotions obscure the clear connections between action and reward. Our confidence is shaken. Our autonomy is lost. And our sense of belonging fractured.

When emotions fail to guide, we must learn to pause, denying natural impulses to act. We must learn skills for processing destructive emotions. In Dialectical Behavior Therapy they refer to this as using our wise mind.

“Healthy anger entails any strategy that helps us to help our rational brain override our emotional brain. While we may desire an easy strategy that will work in all situations, healthy anger includes learning as many strategies as possible to flexibly respond in different situations.” 

~Taylor Bennett

Mindfulness and Destructive Emotions

​Mindfulness teachings provide clues to begin the learning process. First, we must acknowledge our initial feeling (it belongs to us, we felt it). For many, the trigger, arousal, and reactive behavior occur in a single blur. We must separate, explore, and mediate these individual events.

With mindfulness, we acknowledge the role of spoiled expectations, accepting normal discomforts of living in an unpredictable world. Mindfulness examines the flowing emotions without wishful escape or destructive reaction. These close up, non-judgmental check-ins allow for objective discoveries. We may see our magnificent life in a new light. In awe, we see our defensiveness, fears, and protective angers. In spacious reflection, we discover how our reactions destroy the very desires we are protecting.

When we skeptically examine the individual components, the compulsion to act weakens. These patterns of destructive emotion and reactionary behavior run deep; we have run this course a thousand times, carving ruts that are difficult to escape. But change is still possible. The magical neuroplasticity of the brain allows for change.

Change for those sucked in these downward spirals is difficult. Emotions programmed from the chaos are inadequate guides.

Value of Emotion​

While the mind significantly accentuates and minimizes emotions, we shouldn’t disparage emotions all together, disconnecting from attachments. The goal isn’t perfect harmony with experience. The world sends messages that impact our souls and stimulate passions. This is the richness of living.

Those who explore their inner worlds without fear, compassionately examining without judgement find peace. We can’t escape the pains of life; but can work towards resilience to absorb the impacts, processing emotions stirred by disturbing events in a constructive life-giving manner. This is empowered living; the foundation of well-being—a life of feeling, connecting and accepting.

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Camins, Stephanie (2022). Destructive Emotions 101. Road to Growth Counseling. Published 1-11-2022. Accessed 4-26-2022.

Murphy, T. Franklin (2020). Emotional Guidance System. Psychology Fanatic. Published 4-10-2020. Accessed 4-26-2023.

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