Your brain “officially” recognizes five emotions:
What about guilt?
Guilt is suspiciously missing from this list because guilt is really anger in disguise.
I often ask my clients: Who are you guilty at?
Suppose you forget your spouse’s birthday. You already feel terrible, and then your spouse gives you an earful. You marinate in guilt. But deep down, maybe you feel anger–even though you know you are not “allowed” to be angry, given your obvious mistake. Because let’s be honest: Your spouse makes some equally hurtful, but maybe less obvious, mistakes. He never shows interest in your feelings, for example–but it’s useless to bring that up again, since he thinks “feelings are for people with too much time on their hands.” So on and so forth.
So guilt becomes a placeholder, a kind of stunt double, for anger. Your brain registers anger, but you try to translate this anger into a more acceptable, or less threatening, shape. Or so it seems. Because guilt tends to stick around long after its expiration date. It tends to fester and stagnate, eventually leading to bigger problems. Taking responsibility for your mistakes is essential, but this does not require guilt. It requires awareness and self-reflection–and it may require recognizing anger hidden below the surface.
About the Author: James Robbins is a licensed professional counselor, published author and co-owner of Dallas Whole Life Counseling. He has over 15 years of experience helping people in various life stages that come from a wide variety of cultural, economic and family backgrounds. Learn more about his background by clicking here.