Identifying When Emotions Are Unhealthy

Ever struggled with determining how healthy an emotion is?  It can be a hard thing by yourself, nevermind if anyone else wants a say.  Here is a concise breakdown of what makes an emotion healthy or unhealthy.

Hi, I’m Alyson Howatt. Founder of The Happiness Factory and Registered Psychologist. In this video, I’m going to talk about unhealthy emotions, healthy emotions, and how to spot the difference.

Is The Emotion…

Of Benefit?

With healthy emotions, just like any other emotion, they’re driving you to do something. That’s what an emotion is, it motivates you to actually do something. Healthy emotions drive you to do something that benefits you and is based on the circumstances they occur in. Unhealthy emotions drive you to do things that don’t necessarily benefit you right now and are based on past things. They may or may not be relevant to what’s actually happening. Check out my video on dysfunctional beliefs if you want to know more about how those come about.


Healthy emotions feel valid and are propionate to what is actually happening. If you have a healthy emotion come up, it’s going to start at a low level. This emotion just wants you to pay attention and do what it’s driving you to do. If you don’t pay attention and push that emotion to the side, it’s going to come back at a bigger level. Pushing that aside means it’s going to come back even bigger. Push that aside and it’s even bigger. If you still haven’t done it yet (paid attention) it’s going to reach the point of you exploding with this emotion. Perhaps in a way that isn’t beneficial to you but at least lets the emotion be expressed. This is because you still haven’t been paying attention.

Emotions Drive Us

Every emotion does something different. Emotions drive you to do something unique to it. Anger, for example, is fantastic at building boundaries. It can draw a line in the sand and defend it to death. Grief sucks at that, can’t do that at all. What grief is fantastic for is pointing out what actually matters to you and what you’re spending your time on. Whereas anger sucks at that. Every emotion drives us to do something different that is unique to it.

Ask Yourself, Where Is This Emotion Driving Me?

If we actually take a moment and ask, what this emotion is driving us to do? Is it proportionate to what is actually happening? Is it of benefit to me? We can see if it’s a healthy or unhealthy emotion. If it’s a healthy emotion it just wants you to pay attention. To start getting whatever it’s driving you to do in place. An unhealthy emotion feels valid and is disproportionate to what is actually occurring in that moment. In the healthy example, emotion started fairly low and built up gradually. If unhealthy the emotion is going to start high and stay high. Even if you put something in place for it, this unhealthy emotion is not going to go away.

Anger, For Example

We’ll look at anger for an example. Let’s say someone asks to borrow money from you. You give them money. They don’t pay you back and ask to borrow more money. You give them more and they still don’t pay you back. This goes on a couple of times. In an emotionally healthy way, you would have experienced a little anger the second time they asked. A little bit more the third time and even more the fourth. It would eventually get to the point where you blow up. Maybe not even at them because you weren’t paying attention.

If you were paying attention, when it was just that little bit of anger, you might have realized. “Hey self, I’m upset about this. I’m upset about this because they’re walking all over me like I don’t have a boundary. I haven’t put a boundary in place with them. So I need to say this is not cool. They can borrow more money when they pay me back first.” If you can’t do that you’ll still be driven to put a boundary in place. Instead, you could decide not to talk to this person because you don’t know how to say no to them. You still need some boundary for you. This is the benefit for you.

If it was an unhealthy level of anger they would ask to borrow money the first time and instead of starting at a 1 level of anger, you start at a 6. This is because the anger is not based on the circumstances the anger is occurring in; it’s based on the past. If it’s starting at a 6, even if you put that boundary in place, it may continue to be a 6. The anger might not care if you have a boundary there because the anger isn’t about this specific occasion.

Thanks for watching my video. I hope that clarifies the difference between healthy and unhealthy emotions. If you want to check out more videos feel free to subscribe or look at my blog.

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