Why are some emotions more intense and painful than others?

There are numerous kinds of emotions and all emotions are important, but some emotions are deeper and more important than others. Our deepest and most painful emotions are called core emotions. They are core because they have two important features. First, they are the deepest and most basic emotions. Second, they are the only ones that can truly bring us “change” inside ourselves if we can honor them and feel them. There are five basic core emotions: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Guilt. All emotions are subsidiaries to these emotions. It’s important to remember that there can be many other types of emotions that we would consider core, but these five are just a way to categorize all of our core emotions. For example, Sadness can be used to describe core emotions such as hurt, despair, or grief. Unfortunately, the core emotion (Joy) that we seek most of the time is often covered by our other more painful emotions.

Furthermore, sometimes these emotions can be intense and painful. Because of this we go into less painful emotions. These are known as secondary or counter emotions. These emotions are still hard to bear, but they are less difficult to face and our bodies are very aware of this. These would not be considered core emotions because keeping ourselves in these emotions can often lead to feeling stuck or overwhelmed. In addition, there is always a more painful and necessary emotion that we need to uncover underneath these emotions that can lead to healing. Some common counter emotions are frustration, anxiety, shame, depression, anger, and resentment. Anger is a little tricky because it can be a core emotion, but it is a secondary emotion most of the time. The other core emotions can also be acting as secondary emotions covering up something more painful and intense. Sometimes these emotions can be too much to bear so we put up defenses. These are things like intellectualizing, addictions, distractions, laughter, etc. Once we build all of our baggage of emotions on top of one another, we can feel overwhelmed or, on the other side of the spectrum, numb. Once we get to this phase, we have taught our brains to continue to seek relief through our defenses. Then the cycle of misery continues…

So when this happens, how do we get back to the joy? In order to do this, we need to move past our defenses, through our counter emotions and into our core emotions. This can be difficult when we have spent years repressing them. Once we can access them, we need to allow ourselves to feel them and deal with them. We know we have done this properly when our painful core emotions start to dissipate and we begin to experience Joy (i.e. love, peace, forgiveness, compassion, etc.). However, this might be equivalent to Mount Everest unless we receive guidance from a therapist trained in emotional work.

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