Is it OK to experience/express negative emotions to bad circumstances?

Salvete, omnes!

It seems that, many times in Scripture, particularly in the New Testament, we are encouraged directly and potentially by example to rejoice in suffering because of its potential positive benefits to the sufferer, say, in the spiritual domain.

So, does this mean that we are only to rejoice in our suffering and never to experience or express any negative emotions as a result of it?

For, to me, while, yes positive things can come of suffering, it ultimately is something we naturally don’t like and, while I can see rejjoicing in the positive aspects, especially after we have gotten through this or that, I cannot see completely denying our negative feelings toward the circumstance themselves.

Perhaps saying that they are “only natural” is a bit of a cop-out as far as spiritual discipline is concerned, but I think it is a good point.

After all, we are told not only to rejoice with people who rejoice but also to mourn with people who mourn and I would assume this relates to all situations not just higher spiritually-related ones. If we are to mourn with those who mourn, surely this mourning is not to be considered wrong or sinful or even less than ideal.

Then, we have examples of men mourning the deaths of otehr men and potentially Christ even mourning with those who thought men were dead.

We have the example of Jesus apparently getting angry at those who wouold make His House a “den of robbers”.

I’ve always considered the “making us stronger” element of suffering at most a positive side-effect but not the primary essential purpose of it. Am I wrong on this outlook? Why or why not?

Of course, I agree that we should not get over-wrought about things, but I also believe that there is a “reasonablly” negative (and natural, in the non-fallen sense) way to respond to negative circumstnaces.

I am also of the belief that, sometimes, if not more often than not, things just happen, not in the sense that they are in any way beyond God’s control, but in the sense that sin and this sinful world of suffering is common to all, as even a particular verse of Scripture states. Many of us have not experienced any more or less suffering than that which is “common to man”. So, I might propose, and I hope I’m not being heretical here, that while there surely is a reason or there surely are reasons for Suffering (generally), particular trials may not always be meant for reasons particular or even for a particular strengthening and that we may not ultimately even know the Ultimate Reason for the allowance of Suffering generally or certain sufferings particularly, if a reason for particulars exists. (Granted, I have my own speculative theories about Suffering generally, but that is a subject left for another time.) At any rate, so, with this in particular in mind, I would propose that it is indeed OK to express negative reactions fo various kinds of suffering, as long as these ractions are within reason. Am I wrong in this?

The negative responses of God and men to sin of various kinds would seem also to bear out that it is not good because it causes emotional suffering. If sin wasn’t supposed naturally to cause suffering, what would be the big deal about sinning in the first place?

So, what are we to do? Are we to remove our natural negative responses to suffering entirely and to rejoice only in the positive affects of it, or is negative response permitted and, in fact, to be expected by God of us?

Is there any good commentary on this subject either from the very distant past or contemporary? I would very much appreciate some enlightenment on this issue either from folks here or from commentaries on the matter.


One can have all the book learning in the world, but if one does not possess common sense…:shrug:

It is absolutely fine to express negative emotions as long as we don’t turn into drama queens. A lot of Christians will tell you to “grin it and bear it,” and those people have no understanding of human psychology or emotional health. If we continuously bottle up our negative emotions to the point of mental incapacitation, then we’re no good to God or anyone else.

Read the accounts of the Agony in the Garden- Jesus both felt and expressed deeply negative emotions.

Can’t keep it bottled up, it’s unhealthy, just make sure you are expressing your doubts at the right time/target! And in a charitable way…

We have no direct command over our emotions; it’s part of being human.


There is no such thing as “negative emotions”. That may be why there is some confusion.

Suffering can bring about any emotion. Sometimes people can act poorly as a result of an emotion; the emotion could be manic or depressive or passionate in nature.

Emotions should be tempered with reason. For example, Jesus wept at his friends death, but he did not get mad at God the Father over it. Another example, Jesus turned over the money changers tables but he didn’t go into the Temple wildly swinging a sword at them. He kept his emotion within reason. Of course, the phrase ‘within reason’ is going to be a little different for each person.

The obvious end of human life, that which all of our actions aim towards, is happiness.

Now, St. Thomas distinguishes between two kinds of happiness: perfect and imperfect. Perfect happiness is simply the Beatific Vision. Imperfect happiness is simply the freedom, wholeness, and harmony that flows from having the proper emotional responses to objects in every circumstance, which we develop through habits called virtues. Both require Grace to reach, but the later can be known through reason while the former is known only through faith: this is because the latter is happiness for those with a human nature while the former is happiness for those who share in God’s very own Life.

Now, there are circumstances where “negative” emotions are the correct response: for example, when a family member dies. It would be disordered not to feel a kind of sadness for the death of a family member (obviously the emotional reaction in such a circumstance is much more complex, but I just want a quick example to make my point).

When we look at the saints, we don’t see a lack of negative emotion, but the emotion expressed to the proper object, in the right amount, for the circumstances. Christ, for example, expresses sanctified anger at the desecration of His Father’s House. Moses’ sadness is both profound and holy, and so forth. If you want examples of holy emotional reactions, look to the Psalms and read the biographies of the saints.

Christi pax.

Misty, I think you should read the Psalms out loud to yourself. A great many of them verbalise the reality (what I call the subjective objectivity) of pain.

You can’t rejoice if you don’t know other Christians who are doing so the same time as they testify to the pain they are in, so don’t feel yourself under any obligation. (The objectivity of God catches on when others demonstrate Him.)

In any event rejoicing doesn’t in any way preclude describing, being mindful of, and going with, the pain.

It’s a kind of multi-tracking. What pieces of music do you like where one voice is in say 9-8 time and the other in 5-3. Where one is in major and one in minor. One in staccato and one flowing. One in double bass and one in oboe.

I’ve just given myself an appetite because I’ve thought of sweet and sour pork (in batter!)

Our pain brings us empathy with others. Even if we are lonely among those around us, who seem oblivious and anaesthetised to their own peril and precariousness. We are aware on their behalf, if they haven’t caught up yet.

Interesting points TAG. Reminds me of some people I used to know who used to taunt me and my friends by forecasting for us a Lemony Snicket-style series of unfortunate events if we didn’t fall in with their specific religious mindset (drama queens by proxy). Life is indeed on life’s terms, and always will be, whatever that will mean for us, but only in the teeth of a mysteriously provident God. Unfortunately, those who are still followers of those people have turned into loud-mouths who sound like masochists, instead of just telling it how it is (to their genuine friends and others whom it concerns).

Hey, guys.

I know I’m getting back to this late, but the subject has come up for me again recently.

I was reading a brief booklet (on EWTN, no less, but rather dated) that recommended, among the ways to lessen one’s time in Purgatory, that one should calmly bear sufferings.

Before this, I had indeed thought that negative emotions, within reason, were fine.

I see no incompatibility of expressing/feeling negative emotions while, at the same time, belieiving/trusting in a God who cares and who works all things, ultimately and in whatewver way that may be, for good.

SUffering is ultimately a result of sin, but, because God permits it, in that way, it is in some way for good for people. AGain, though, in response to the suffering per se, I see no incompatibility with doing so while trusting in God, as I say.

Thoughts? Agreement? Disagreement?

I am wondering, then, how to deal with the statement in the booklet I mention that we should bear suffering with calm.

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