Black Sheep and Bad Emotions: Why Both Are Necessary for A Life Well Lived

Feeling down? You may not realize it, but that sensation can be helpful if you choose to make the best of it. For many Americans, or those of us from the Western culture, we are taught to seize only the good, and discard the rest. Yet, there is something to be said for the yin and the yang. As humans, we need both good and bad emotions to find balance in our lives.


Negative emotions have a place that belongs within us, otherwise they wouldn’t exist. Our emotional brains – the secondary or mammalian mind – acts in accordance with what humans have evolved to become over time. As such, our brain’s chemistry has changed to match the feelings we experience. This explains the fight-or-flight response; it also demonstrates why domesticated animals show feelings such as love and jealously.

Looking at Things from Another Angle

A recent book which was released, titled, “The Upside of Your Darkside: Why Being Your Whole Self–Not Just Your “Good” Self–Drives Success and Fulfillment,” recommends discovering your negative emotions as a way to help you get in touch with your whole self, rather than just the pleasant part of your psyche. This is the opposite to what many people will believe to be true, since we thoroughly want to hold onto only pleasant and uplifting experiences. However, the entire spectrum of human emotion sees more than just the good.

One thing the book points out is that feelings we do not like to experience are not as suppressed in other cultures. People who live in other countries do not have the same experience of ups and downs. It’s when we resist negativity that it causes more pain – even more than it would have if we had simply accepted things (the feelings that we were already experiencing) for what they are.

Finding the Bad – and Accepting It

There is always a flipside of the coin that we would prefer to experience. We must look outside of our comfort zones to find more to discover. Even when we realize that life will not always go the way we want or hope it will, there is an opportunity to learn.

Does this mean we must sacrifice ourselves completely? Should we just give up and let the negative take over? No, because what we seek, we shall find. We do not want to only look for the ugly side; we simply want to recognize it exists and accept it. The implication here is, you ought to allow yourself to experience all of your emotions, so when the bad feelings show up, they do not hurt you so completely.

Things to Take into Consideration with This Practice

There will be challenges, but you will likely find a form of enlightenment along the way. Note there are some points to keep in mind.

  1. We cannot change ourselves, due to the nature of the human condition itself.
  2. Just as there is good and bad in your life, there is also good and bad in the world.
  3. There is no sense in resisting the painful side of life, because it will be there regardless.

You Can’t Change Your Natural State

The first point – not being able to change ourselves – is important to the idea of using your dark side to help you find your light side. We are bound to retain whatever we have learned as younger people; as such, we will cling tightly to those beliefs. Additionally, innate personality traits also persist. This means you will generally try to stick with whatever is comfortable and normal to your sense of self.

If you are a pessimistic person, then looking at the dark side will come easily – that is what you look for in life. However, if you see yourself as a positive person, this practice will be much more difficult; it is possible you will give up quickly as it does not provide the comfort you normally seek. If you find it to be too painful, that is because the practice is working. Yes, that is counterintuitive to what many other exercises say. You’ll often hear or read, “Stop if it begins to hurt,” but, with practice, you’ll know it is working if you allow yourself to feel emotionally hurt.

Two Sides to Every Story

The second idea to be considered is that there are two sides to everything, both good and bad. There is no escaping it, no matter how hard we try. To accept ourselves for who we are, it is useful to embrace both as a way to teach ourselves how to do better with what we have.

The light side of our personalities, the part that most people try to hold onto, is of course quite valuable. But so is the dark side. The dark side of our personas can act as a means to propel ourselves to be happier. Attempting to hold onto merely one side of ourselves can be harmful, because we are not utilizing our full selves to reach our ultimate potential.

Don’t Fight It, You’ll Only Hurt More

With that, we reach the third concept, which is that resistance to negative feelings causes us to suffer more. Those bad feelings we find within ourselves should not be inhibited. Instead, they should be managed and harnessed to help us achieve growth. 

For example, if you are grieving over a loss, fighting your painful emotions will not help you to feel better. By accepting those feelings and trying to find meaning in them, you will not only become more at peace, but you will learn a new coping skill. If you instead choose to suppress your feelings of loss, they will linger longer and you will likely learn very little. Dysfunction, in one form or another, will continue to rear its ugly head.

But it goes further than this. By not only allowing these darker emotions their existence, but finding an acceptable way to express them, you tap into an outlet known in psychological circles as ‘sublimation’. It is a tool some of the world’s greatest artistic visionaries are quite familiar with, whether they realize it or not. If you have an excessive dark side and it doesn’t manage to find a form of expression within the accepted boundaries of society, it will likely sabotage your life in some very unpleasant ways.

Final Thoughts on Tapping Into Your Dark Side

Perhaps the most meaningful thing to take from this practice is that we do not need to harm ourselves by holding onto only one side of life. There is power in the bad, just as there is in the good. Try not to focus on simply one or the other, and you will find yourself experiencing deeper emotions that will help you to understand yourself and others in a much richer, more meaningful manner befitting what it means to be ‘human’.

An avid coffee drinker, and lover of all things artistic, Heather migrated to the Midwest in 2010. Her favorite topics include mindfulness practices, psychology, and art history.