No one puts emotions in the corner

20130507-143823.jpgA short post today that forms a backdrop to a number of posts soon to come and it is a fundamental message that you need to hear before you read them.

So often emotions are expressed in the form of being positive or negative and that needs to shift.

Lets play a game; here is a list of emotions and I want you to group them (in your head) as you read them into the camps of positive or negative:


For those that are unfamiliar, this list is the seven emotions that have a scientifically proven universal display. For more info on Dr Paul Ekman whose research identified these, please click here and if you want to learn about how to recognise and manage them, click here.

I would wager that as you worked your way down the list you put the 1st five into the negative camp, happy into the positive camp and then you struggled with surprise. The other response you may have had was ‘well it depends Phil, if this happened then positive and if this happened then negative.’

So, what if we changed the categories a little and broadened the scope.

Let’s start with the scope. We live in a dynamic and complex world where the context(s) around us changes moment to moment. Therefore having 2 categories for everything is too narrow a view (in my opinion).

Next the categories. We can use ‘constructive and destructive’ to look at the outcome that may be achieved from the action driven by each of the possible emotions.

For constructive I mean; action that enhances relationships and understanding with others.
For destructive I mean; action that damages relationships and understanding with others.

When we then combine the two we have a more dynamic way of looking at emotion;

We have moved from a simplistic positive or negative view to one where it is all about the action that the emotion led to.
The one size fits all approach has evolved to account for reality and therefore; it depends on the context(s) you are in.

Over the series of posts that will follow you will find this brought to life through examples and it is a core concept you need to be clear on before that series begin.

How do you categorise or view emotions at the moment?

What do you think to the categories used here?

If you cold choose, what categories would you have? Would you have any at all?

I look forward to hearing from you.


3 responses to “No one puts emotions in the corner

  1. I bet Dr Ekman gets the following all the time but I never claim to be an original thinker:

    So this is the conversation you and I have yet to have: Really?
    7 emotions? only 7?
    If I’m disappointed or lonely or excited, what are these classed as?

    If I speak a different language, are there only 7? Does English fully cover how to express experience or sensation?

    I’m being a little flip, of course… but found this :
    and thought maybe 7 is arbitrary?

    Interested in knowing more…..

    • Hi Julie.

      You are great as always, complimentary and challenging as well as humorous and serious at the same time.

      It is also brilliant that you ask the questions as without questions there is no conversation and I want this blog to be a conversation.

      So, to answer:

      1) Are there only 7 emotions? No.

      2) Are there 7 emotions where there are scientifically proven universal expressions? Yes.

      These are the 7 I mentioned in the post.

      3) Are there members of these 7 families where the expressions still appear? Yes.

      For example, in the family of ‘Fear’ will be everything from mild anxiety to petrified. Yet the expression will be the same. Maybe at different intensity and/or duration and it can still be seen.

      4) Are there other words to describe emotions than the ones I have used here? Yes.

      One of the challenges we have is semantics. In fact when Dr Ekman was doing his research this is an area he needed to overcome. He went to the Fore tribe in Papa New Guinea as part of his research and found a way around it. When he showed an expression on a photograph he asked them (through an interpreter) to say what they thought had happened immediately before this face. These are examples of the replies:

      Happy – friends have come
      Disgust – just found a rotting pig
      Sadness – child has died

      So yes, words themselves are often not enough to describe an emotion.

      5) Can (English) words express an emotional experience or sensation? No.

      Interestingly, the way we all experience emotions will differ. Whether that be onset (how quickly it begins) intensity (how acutely it is experienced) duration (how long the experience lasts) or offset (how long it takes to get back to normal or baseline.

      It will differ by emotion, trigger and context too.

      What will be consistent, is the facial expression. That is the value.

  2. thank you.. I am genuinely intrigued and taken by your field of specialism. and I am asking to understand – albeit perhaps with a wry smile ( which category is that under?)
    Longer conversations imminent – keep blogging & getting everyone thinking, please.

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