The vitality of feelings


Our feelings or affects are very important to our wellbeing. They are the main drive force for our motivation, they are an important source of vitality and they have a signal function; they show up for a very good reason. Their reasons are however often hidden for us until we dare to go into them and contain them until we get their message

Silvan Tomkins who did a major work regarding studying our feelings, said we have eleven ground feelings or affects. These affects create different bodily reactions through affecting the limbic system and the can come in different levels or gradients

We have the positive affects which we mostly want to have more of, and we have the negative affects which we often don’t want. We have different toelrance to different affects. Some affects may be easier for us to tolerate than others. This depends on our uprbinging and earlier experience where we may have learned that some affects are ok to have and to show, while others where not allowed.

In regard to affect consciousness it is important to exersize the ability to contain and tolerate both positive and negative affects. We need to cultivate situations which give positive affects and solve situations which give negative affects, but also accept and get to know negative affects. Sometimes one needs to get through a layer of negative affects to get to the more positive ones.

Some of the affects (like anger, sorrow, closeness, interest, joy, fear and envy/jealousy) have an activating function. They make us want to act to handle a situation. Other affects (like strong fear, shame, guilt/bad consciousness, contempt and disgust) have a more limiting function. They make us want to stop and retreat from a situation.

The different affects have different functions; They are there for their different reasons:


The positive affects

1. Interest  –  It’s function is to create motivation, focus our attention and get closer to the object of interest and explore

2. Joy  –  It’s function is to create relief, make us content and calm and make us feel joyfully balanced. It motivates us to repeat actions which feel good. Joy creates an accepting attitude towards ourselves and others and creates courage and trust.

3. Affection/tenderness – It’s function is to embrace, touch and give attention and care to others. it makes us open, receptive, vulnerable and it makes us show trust to others.

The negative affects

4. Fear  –  It’s function is to protect oneself in a dangerous situation. One can when affected by fear either escape, retreat og confront the fearful situation.

5. Irritation/anger  –  It’s function is to set limits and be assertive. Irritation and anger makes one mark one’s own territory in a social group setting.

6. Sadness/sorrow  –  makes us begin to cry and tell other people about one’s pain or suffering. This can lead to support from others, give us pain relief and help us accepting loss. Sorrow is an important affect in regard to getting over a loss of some kind.

7. Shame  –  motivates us to an increased sensitivity to oters meanings and feelings. The affect can promote social responsibility and makes one not only think about oneself. It makes us stop doing something which stands against out own image of ourselves.

8. Envy/jealousy  –  motivates us to avoid to be overlooked or rejected or not being taken into consideration. The affect makes us regain respect and dignity, but the affect has an element of not wishing others well.

9. Guilt/bad consciousness  –  stops us from doing things that goes against society’s norms and rules. The affect motivates us to create union where there has been conflicts and makes us mend there something has been hurt

10. Contempt  –  makes us avoid closeness and create a distance to other people. One can feel contempt towards a value one disagrees with.

11. Disgust  –   motivates us to try to eliminate or change what feels disgusting so that it will not be disgsting anymore. Often this feeling can show up when there has been a biological, physical or psychological invasion of some sort.



I add an extra note on shame in addition to this chapter of feelings as I see it as an important feeling in respect to social circumstances. Many feelings are difficult to handle so we often turn away or try to flee from them. Shame is one of these feelings which may be most difficult to handle, and a psychologist named Donald Nathanson has come up with a theory of the different ways we often use to get away from shame. He says we often either flee, avoid, attack ourselves or attack others in order to avoid this feeling.