Before Good and Evil: A Feeling Needs No Justification.

Posted on August 9, 2011


I wonder at what point in human history we started to evaluate whether or not our feelings should exist and whether or not we should express them.

For example, when did we start thinking and saying, “I don’t have a right to feel the way I feel”  or “I have no reason to feel this way” or “I am overreacting.”

I suppose it’s possible that, as long as we’ve lived in close proximity to each other, we’ve evaluated whether or not it is appropriate to have a feeling or to express it but I doubt it. I suspect it’s a fairly recent phenomenon — particularly from the long lens of evolution.

At minimum, we can probably agree, at some point in human history, we would not have wondered if it was right or wrong for us to have a feeling or to express it. We would not have weighed reasons for and against the existence of a feeling and its expression. We would not have wondered if we had a right to a particular feeling or a right to express it. Clearly, children don’t, until they are taught to do so, and long before we were thinking beings, we were feeling beings.

From my perspective, a feeling exists or it doesn’t exist. The question of warrant is irrelevant. We don’t need a reason or a right to have a feeling. No burden of proof needs to be met. It either exists or it doesn’t exist. There are, of course, reasons for and against the expression of a feeling in any given circumstance but those reasons have no bearing on the question of whether or not a feeling exists.

For example, under normal circumstances, it’s probably not right to yell at a parent over Christmas dinner for taking a cherished toy from you when you were young. In fact, it might not ever be warranted for you to express to your parent directly the anger for this particular transgression. It is nevertheless unobjectionable for you to be angry about the event and to choose to experience the anger in some other context, even if the parent is a generally loving and supportive person.

In my own life, I know I often prevented myself from experiencing certain feelings because I didn’t think I really had the right to feel them. In some instances, I avoided experiencing certain feelings because it seemed that if I experienced an “unwarranted” feeling, that would be a kind of wrong in and of itself. In other instances, I avoided experiencing certain feelings because I thought the causes of those feelings weren’t nearly as serious as they ought to be. Whatever the reason, whenever I decided a feeling had no right to exist, it meant the feeling was never fully experienced and I missed the opportunity to heal and learn from it.

I write all this because I’m fairly certain other people are struggling with this very same issue. If you are, my suggestion is this: if you ever find yourself thinking that one of your feelings has no right to exist or telling yourself you have no right to experience a feeling, distinguish between the existence of the feeling and how you choose to react to the existence of that feeling. Feelings exist and, in most cases, probably need to be experienced in some way. There are better and worse ways to experience the feeling but the existence of the feeling does not need to be defended or justified — it needs only to be experienced.

Posted in: Identity