The Weathervane Emotions: Anger, Jealousy, and Guilt
Let's welcome these difficult emotions as the guides they are.
Posted September 11, 2022 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader
- Anger is when a boundary has been crossed.
- Jealousy is when you want something different in your life.
- Guilt means you need to make amends.
Painful emotions have gotten a bad rap. Our current "toxic positivity" culture encourages people to disown negative emotions and be upbeat and optimistic. Implicit in this paradigm is that all problems can be overcome with a can-do attitude and a smile on your face.
Complicated emotions are necessary, healthy, and valuable. Like a weathervane, they show us which way the wind is blowing and how we need to adjust accordingly. In my therapy practice, anger, jealousy, and guilt are the emotions clients most want to suppress or get rid of as quickly as possible. If instead, we mine these uncomfortable states for the information they hold, we'll be able to learn about ourselves and take constructive steps based on this new knowledge.
Let's look at the most common weathervane emotions—anger, jealousy, and guilt—to see how to use these critical guides to protect ourselves, identify our values, and tend to our relationships.
Anger: A boundary has been crossed
Whether it be hot rage or simmering resentment, in many families, cultures, and communities, anger, especially for women, is simply not allowed. Part of this is because we don't differentiate between feeling angry and acting out destructively. Feelings are neutral in the same way a weathervane is neutral. Behavior can be positive or negative depending on how it affects the people around us and us.
People who have wholly disowned their anger are boundaryless and fearful. They rely entirely on the goodwill of others because they don't allow themselves the option of standing up for themselves or leaving distressing situations. As a result, they have rendered themselves powerless.
Anger is fuel. It is the antidote to inaction and defeat. Anger is a shot of adrenaline, a splash of cold water, an inner resolve that tells you enough is enough. It is the basis of every social justice movement throughout history and a healthy reaction to an often unfair world.
But to learn from your anger, observing it with a bit of distance is necessary. You need to be able to speak "for" the anger instead of "from" the anger. Finding distance often requires you to step away, notice the sensations coming up in your body, and then ask the anger what it wants to teach you. Sit quietly for long enough, and the answer will often bubble to the surface on its own. From there, you can take measured, decisive action.
Jealousy: You want something different in your life
Jealousy has gotten a bad rap partly because it's often conflated with envy, but they're different. Envy is wishing someone else ill because they have what you want. Jealousy is desire.
How do you want to feel? How do you want to live? What do you want your life to be made of? These are essential, value-based questions that jealousy has us ask ourselves. The trick is to go underneath the apparent object of desire and instead think about what need you imagine that object would fulfill.
For example, jealousy of someone's financial success might indicate that you want more security or freedom in your life. If you're jealous of someone's relationship, you might be yearning for a similar connection. If hearing that a colleague has accepted a new position across the country elicits a jealous pang, it might mean you are craving a significant change or adventure.
When we reframe our jealousy from "I want that thing" to "something important is missing for me," we can use this information to move forward instead of staying stuck and licking our wounds.
Guilt: You need to make amends
Guilt is evidence of heart—if we hurt people, we should feel remorse. The only people who never feel guilty are psychopaths. Apologizing, trying to set things right, and taking responsibility for harm are the hallmarks of emotional adulthood. Knowing that we make mistakes can also help us be compassionate and forgiving of other people's missteps.
That said, guilt is tricky because we need to differentiate between worthy guilt, which springs from violating our internal belief systems, and unworthy guilt, which results from internalizing societal expectations that don't accurately reflect our values.
To identify whether the guilt is worthy or unworthy, imagine a person you love is the one who feels guilty and imagine what you would say to them in response. Do you think they should feel guilty? If so, what advice would you give them to help them move forward? Now be that friend to yourself and move forward accordingly.
Anger, jealousy, and guilt are important guides. Not only should we not suppress difficult emotions, but we should welcome them as the invaluable teachers they are.