Negative Emotions: List & 158 Examples (+ PDF)
What are negative emotions? What are some examples of negative emotions? And how do you control, process, and release them? Get a negative emotions list and learn all about negative emotions.
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Negative emotions are a part of life. But they can also be tricky. They don't feel good, so we often want to get rid of them as quickly and effectively as possible. But the way we do this is actually really important—for example, we can make ourselves feel worse if we suppress or repress our negative emotions. So, in this article, we'll explore negative emotions in detail to learn more about what they are and how to deal with them.
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What Are Negative Emotions? (A Definition)
According to emotion theorists, there is no agreed-upon definition of emotion. But let's not get into that here. The dictionary defines negative emotion as "an unpleasant, often disruptive, emotional reaction." Indeed, this is correct enough if we're thinking about our own experience of negative emotions. But it's also important to know that negative emotions have important functions and that may in fact be why they exist.
The functions of negative emotions examples
It's probably more obvious that fear motivates us to engage in either fight or flight in response to a threat or predator. But perhaps it's less obvious how other negative emotions motivate behavior. Negative emotions like jealousy, for example, are thought to motivative us to restore important social bonds in the face of threats. Negative emotions like embarrassment motivate others to forgive us if we have done something wrong. Sadness motivates sympathy and leads others to help us more (Keltner & Kring, 1998).
As you can see, even though negative emotions feel bad, they have important functions that help us have experiences that make us feel better and even thrive in the longer term. This is a big part of why avoiding negative emotions—or shoving them down with suppression or repression—isn't really good for us (and it may not even really work, but that's a more nuanced discussion). So instead of running from our negative emotions, we're better off learning to deal with and process our negative emotions in healthy ways. We'll talk more about that below.
What Are the Primary Negative Emotions
Paul Ekman, a lead emotion theorist, proposed that there are a handful of basic negative emotions. This means that they are universal (i.e., experienced all over the world) and they have distinct physiological patterns (i.e., our body reacts differently to different emotions). Ekman argues that these basic emotions are part of 'emotion families'. For example, anger may be a basic emotion while frustration or contempt would be in the same family as anger (Ekman, 1999).
Emotion theorists vary a bit on what they believe to be the primary (or basic) emotions. But here are the primary emotions according to each of them:
Types of Negative Emotions
If the basic emotions are sort of the leaders of each emotion family, then what are the families—or types—of negative emotions. Here's an overview of the most intense to least intense negative emotions in each family, according to Plutchik's model:
Negative Emotions Ted Talk: Getting Stuck in the Negatives (and How to Get Unstuck)
List of Negative Emotions
Although the emotion theories can be helpful for understanding what emotions are, they also leave a lot out. There are so many more emotions that don't fit nicely into these theories or emotion types. So here's a list of 158 negative emotions. This can help you get a better understanding of the range of negative emotions that exist.
Negative emotions list
List of Negative Emotions PDF
If you want this negative emotion list as a word document, PDF, or Excel, just download the files below.
Printable List of Positive and Negative Emotions
If you want a list of all emotions, both positive and negative, here is a downloadable list of them.
Other Negative Emotion Words
In addition to negative emotions themselves, there are a lot of phrases we say that indicate we're feeling negatively. Here are a few:
How Negative Emotions Affect Your Health
We might assume that negative emotions are bad for our health, but it's not quite that simple. As you learned earlier, what we do with our negative emotions may be the most important thing. Whether we express, suppress, or repress our negative emotions makes a big difference for our health (with suppression and repression being the less healthy choices). In addition, whether or not we experience positive emotions along with our negative emotions makes a big difference (Hershfield, Scheibe, Sims, & Carstensen, 2013).
Negative emotions + positive emotions
Some research suggests that if we can feel some positive emotions along with our negative emotions, this might actually be the best option. We get the benefits of negative emotions without so many of the pitfalls. As the researchers put it, this strategy of "taking the good with the bad" might be the best for our health because we are able to deal with and process the negative emotions and possibly even find some good in bad experiences (Hershfield, Scheibe, Sims, & Carstensen, 2013).
Why might this be? Well, some people speculate this is might be because our attention narrows when dealing with negative situations. We have to process information quickly and without a lot of mental or social resources (Hershfield, Scheibe, Sims, & Carstensen, 2013). On the flip side, positive emotions broaden and build our resources—for example, we're able to come up with more creative solutions and gain the support of others more easily when we experience positive emotions. This makes positive emotions a great companion to negative emotions.
How to Control Negative Emotions
Even though negative emotions can have some benefits, there may be many times when we want to control them. Luckily, the truth is that we actually have a lot of control over our emotions. We can decrease negative emotions and increase positive emotions through processes known as emotion regulation. There are tons of emotion regulation strategies—some effective; some not so effective.
Some of the most well-known, effective emotional control strategies are:
Some well-known ineffective emotional control strategies are:
How to Deal With Negative Emotions
We talked a bit about how negative emotions have important functions, especially social functions. And we just talked above about how to control our emotions effectively. To deal with emotions effectively, these two things need to be balanced.
For example, if someone is mistreating us and we're angry yet we try to implement the emotion regulation strategy of acceptance, we might unintentionally cut our anger short, preventing us from standing up for ourselves and stopping any further mistreatment. Or, if we're feeling afraid, our gut might be telling us that we need to pay attention to possible threats. Perhaps this is why having a little bit of anxiety actually helps improve our effort and performance (Hardy & Hutchinson, 2007).
So, controlling our negative emotions might not actually be the best plan of action, at least not all the time. Instead, we might be better served by processing and then releasing negative emotions. This way, they hopefully won't pop back up or cause problems in other areas of our lives.
Video: How To Deal With Strong Negative Emotions
How to Process Negative Emotions
Although we generally don't like being around someone who is experiencing negative emotions, there is a right time and place to express our negative emotions. More specifically, when we express a need that involves negative emotions, we are actually more likely to elicit the help we need, facilitate intimacy, and even build larger social networks (Graham, Huang, Clark, & Helgeson, 2008).
By using our negative emotions in the functional ways that they were designed for, we can benefit more from having them. So here are some tips for how to process your negative emotions.
How to Release Negative Emotions
Once you know where your negative emotions are coming from, have determined what can be done with them, and have taken any potentially beneficial actions, it's time to release them. Holding onto negative emotions by ruminating or worrying does more harm than good. So try to practice letting go.
It may be helpful to take a moment for yourself, take some deep breaths, and imagine the negative emotion decreasing in size and intensity. Deep breathing helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which can help calm high-intensity negative emotions like anxiety or anger.
If you continue to have any self-focused negative emotions, like shame or guilt, you may benefit from practicing self-compassion. We all deserve a little kindness and compassion, and by gently reminding ourselves of our inherent value, we may be able to dissolve some self-focused negative emotions.
Here's an audio/video track that may help you calm your mind as you release negative thoughts and emotions:
More Articles Related to Negative Emotions
Want to gain even more insights related to emotions? Here are a few helpful articles:
Books on Negative Emotions
Want to read more? Here are some books to explore: