The Right Word

Rabbi Azriel Hauptman

Human beings communicate in many ways, of which verbal communication plays an integral role. Therefore, using the right word makes the difference between coherent and confusing communication. Even our internal communication is based on words, and if we do not have the right word for a concept then we lack the ability to connect with that concept and comprehend it. In this article, we will focus on a few word pairs that relate to emotions that are often conflated into one broad concept even though they are expressing two very different emotions. Hopefully, this will contribute to our emotional intelligence.

Guilt and Shame

Guilt is an acknowledgment of one’s responsibility for a wrongdoing. Consequently, when one feels guilty, there is a deep sense of remorse, but the remorse is focused on the action. Shame, on the other hand, refers to the person and not to the action. When one feels shame, one is saying that because I did this action, therefore I am a bad person. When one feels guilty, one feels bad for what he did, but is not saying that therefore he is a bad person. Guilt can often be a positive emotion, as it encourages a person to make amends and to correct his ways. Shame, one the other hand, can sometimes be a debilitating emotion as it can spiral into a deep depression.

Happiness and Joy

Happiness is a very broad term and can be applied even to a short-lived experience. Joy, on the other hand, tends to be limited to a longer lasting and more internal feeling. Therefore, it would be appropriate to say that I am happy that I found a parking spot, but it would not be appropriate to say that it brings me joy. However, if you have something in your life that provides a deep sense of purpose and meaning, then one can say that it brings you joy. Pursuit of happiness might be a pointless endeavor as its goal is something fleeting and ephemeral. Pursuit of joy is life itself. When we conduct our lives in a way that provides ourselves with a deep sense of purpose and meaning, then we are pursuing joy, which is an emotion that can stick with us and fundamentally improve our lives.

Depression and Sadness

Sadness is an emotion. Emotionally healthy people feel a broad range of emotions based on life’s circumstances, and sadness is one of those emotions. Depression is a disorder of one’s mood. When one is suffering from depression, one’s entire emotional being is pushed down to the ground, and as a result many other symptoms emerge, such as changes in sleeping and eating, irritability, distorted thoughts, a sense of doom and gloom, and sometimes sadness as well. More often than not, a depressed person’s emotions are too flat to feel genuine sadness. Sadness is a normal part of life and can be a health emotion. Depression, however, is a form of mental illness.

Anxiety and Fear

Anxiety and fear do overlap, but in the world of mental health we use the term fear as referring to what one feels when there is an accurate appraisal of an imminent danger. Anxiety is when one is prematurely anticipating a potential future threat that is presently irrelevant, or when one has an inaccurate sense of danger and is acting afraid despite the lack of any real danger. When anxiety causes stress and interferes with daily functioning it is classified as a mental health disorder.  

Anger and Rage

Anger is an emotion, whereas rage is when one acts out the anger. We are not perfect, and it is quite normal to feel angry when one is the victim of an injustice or some other life circumstance. But what one does with that emotion determines if it leads to rage or not. One can acknowledge the feelings of anger and process it without acting out against another person, or a person can allow himself to go into a rage and act out verbally or even physically against another person. Once someone descends into a fit of rage it is very hard to exert self-control over one’s actions.

There is a famous adage that a problem well-stated is half solved. When we fully understand the nature of emotions, our ability to master them becomes exponentially easier. Part of that process is to master the vocabulary of emotions. Hopefully, this article will make a small contribution towards that goal.

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