How Can Negative Emotions Serve A Useful Purpose?

Many emotional therapies focus on clearing, therapeutically, negative emotions or  “charge” associated with traumatic events, personal failures, and interpersonal attachments, etc. This presupposes that negative emotions serve no useful purpose and therefore must be eliminated in order for one to feel and behave well and generally live a happier life as a result. It often also presupposes that release of “negative” emotion will somehow magically create a space for and be filled with “positive” emotions.

Is there a place for my “negative” emotions? How can my negative emotions serve a useful purpose?

One area in which negative emotions might be useful is motivation. When I experience failure – like when I come up short in a test of some kind – my “negative” emotion about it can motivate me to exert effort to do better next time. Releasing the negative emotions associated with the failure can lessen my motivation to improve – moving me from “I care a lot” to “I don’t care as much” – which may cause me to prepare less for the next test and so maybe repeat the previous performance.

Anger feelings can sometimes motivate me to take action in response to the actions of someone or something, thus lessening the probability of recurrence.

Perhaps, as a change facilitator I might do well to resist the temptation to release what I perceive as “negative” emotional energy from my client as that emotional energy may be useful to them in ways neither of us yet understand or perceive. Until the client comes to understand WHY they felt as they did, even redirecting the emotional energy could result in missed opportunity and increased likelihood of circumstantial repetition.

Perhaps as I focus less on releasing negative emotions and more on fostering holistic wellness through deep compassion and rapport, I might lessen the probability of interference in systems I barely comprehend – like the complexities of the human condition – and maybe put my client and me on a course to true Self-realization and actualization – transformation through gratitude and appreciation.


  1. University of Cologne. (2013, October 28). “The psychology of physical cleansing.” Medical News Today. Retrieved from

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