Eight Basic Emotions and Their Gifts


Sometimes we make the subject of emotions, and emotions themselves, more complicated than they actually are. Emotions and our experience of them are complex, but when it comes down to it, they’re fairly straightforward. 

What complicates emotions is when we don’t have language for them, when we have spent a lifetime stuffing them down, and when we have no idea which ones we’re experiencing. This all comes from our experiences in our families of origin. We’ll discuss that more next week.

I want to draw your attention to two primary things this week. First, we use a lot of different words for emotions, but when it comes down to it, there aren’t that many that we actually feel. We use these descriptors to express the depth of an emotion, but much of the time that’s because it feels uncomfortable to name what’s actually happening. For example, it may feel easier to say you feel frustrated than it is to say that you’re angry.

Second, all emotions have their gifts. All emotions are a natural (and integral) part of the human experience. Allowing ourselves to experience a range of emotions appropriately is part of what it means to be a healthy adult. 

The list below is based on a chart I was introduced to in a training with Pia Mellody in Post Induction Therapy. It contains eight basic emotions, other words that we use for those emotions, and the gifts of each one (when expressed appropriately).  As you read through it, keep these two questions in mind:

            Do you have an aversion to experiencing any of these emotions?

            What do you think of the idea that each emotion has gifts? 


Anger: frustration, resentment, aggravation, irritation

            Gifts: empowerment, strength, energy, assertiveness 

Fear: apprehensive, threatened, anxious,

            Gifts: wisdom, protection, alert signal 

Pain: sad, hurt, heartache

            Gifts: healing, growth, awareness 

Joy: happy, delighted, elated

            Gifts: abundance, gratitude, contentment

Passion: enthusiasm, desire, zeal

            Gifts: energy, excitement, momentum

Love: tenderness, affection, warmth, care

            Gifts: connection, compassion, spirituality, service

Shame*: embarrassed, humble,

            Gifts: humility, containment, humanity, respect 

Guilt: regretful, remorseful, sorrowful

            Gifts: amends, values, containment

*Healthy shame as opposed to toxic shame 


In the coming weeks, we’ll look at why understanding and connecting with emotions can be so difficult. In the meantime, I hope this list will be a helpful tool as you get to know your emotional self. 

Peace on the journey,