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Not All Negative Emotions Are Bad: Learning to Tolerate Unpleasant Feelings

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Albert Ellis, the father of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT), makes an important distinction between unhealthy negative emotions (UNE) and healthy negative emotions (HNE). Whether you're a teen, young adult, or adult, all of us experience both healthy and unhealthy negative emotions.

UNE include such things as despair, anxiety, depression, and guilt. HNE include such things as disappointment, concern, sadness, and remorse. Although HNE and UNE are clearly related, there is a massive difference between them. What is this important distinction?

The cognitive theory of emotion (which most therapists today subscribe to) teaches that emotions are a combination of physiological reaction and cognition. Cognition refers to our patterns of thought. It's not accurate to create a sharp distinction between feeling and thinking. According to this model, feeling and thinking are closely related.

An example can help illustrate this perspective on emotion. Let's say someone cuts us off on the freeway. We may immediately feel irritated and annoyed. For many of us, our body will respond with our face turning red and the shoulder muscles tensing up.

There is also the formation of thoughts evaluating what has happened. We may think that no one should ever do that to us. We could easily think the other driver is a jerk and deserves a swift consequence.

These thoughts connected to the experience are a manifestation of emotion and impact our mood.

Unhealthy Vs. Healthy Negative Emotions

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In teen therapy, young adult counseling, family therapy, and couples counseling, both unhealthy and healthy emotions are expressed. As they are, this gives me as a therapist, an opportunity to help my clients differentiate between the two.

Once a difference is made, this can help shift the thought process behind the emotions which in turn can help decrease the unhealthy emotions.

Negative emotions like despair, anxiety, depression and guilt are unhealthy because they are each sustained by a rigid attitude about oneself, others and the world.

Negative emotions like disappointment, concern, sadness and remorse are healthy because they are undergirded by a flexible attitude bout oneself, others and the world. Let's look at a few common feelings in more depth.


This is the complete loss of hope. A state of emotional ruin. The reason this is an unhealthy negative emotion is because it reflects an unrealistic approach to life. Even in the most difficult circumstances, is it true that all hope is lost?

Despair is often a result of catastrophic thinking and a refusal to acknowledge that good can emerge out of bad things.


This is unhappiness over something not happening the way you wanted it to. This is completely understandable and normal.

We are all humans with desires, preferences and opinions. We live in a world where many things are out of our control.

Disappointment becomes unhealthy if we develop an attitude that we should never be unfulfilled or that our life is over if we don't get what we want.


This is persistent, intense, and excessive fear and worry about everyday situations. Anxiety is unhealthy when it overpowers our life and keeps us from functioning.

While it's natural to feel a level of anxiety in stressful situations, what makes it unhealthy is when our mindset is fixed on extreme or unrealistic aspects of the perceived threat. Our anxiety about a presentation will be worse if we believe that we have to deliver a perfect speech.


This is a reasonable worry about a difficult situation. The main difference between concern and anxiety is the core attitude that governs our perception of the threat.

A high school or college student may be concerned about an upcoming exam. They know it's going to cover a lot of material and they know they may have struggled in the past with this subject.

The student may develop anxiety about this exam if they start to believe that they will fail and lose their chance of securing her desired GPA. If the student can shift their attitude to one of studying hard but not demanding a specific outcome, they might continue to feel concerned without extreme anxiety. Regardless of what happens, they can try again or find ways to improve her GPA.

The Benefit of Teen Therapy, Young Adult Counseling, Family Therapy, Couples Therapy or Marriage Counseling

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Working with a therapist can help you discover the underlying attitudes that fuel your UNE. If you are stuck in depression, anxiety, social anxiety, panic attacks, marriage or relationship struggles, talking to a therapist can help identify what beliefs are shaping your emotions and behavior.

An experienced therapist can help you improve your mindset and change the behaviors that are self-defeating.

Katy Teen & Family Counseling: Providing Teen Therapy & Family Counseling in Katy, Tx & Houston

At our Katy, Tx location of Katy Teen & Family Counseling, we use therapy approaches that are supported by research and shown to be effective. Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy is one of those approaches underneath the umbrella of Cognitive Behavior Therapy.

If you may be struggling with emotional or behavioral challenges that are standing in the way of your happiness, we can help. With 50+ years of combined therapy experience, we help people overcome depression, anxiety, social anxiety, panic attacks, trauma, PTSD, and other challenges.

If you, your teen, young adult or your marriage is struggling and you are ready to start the road towards healing, all you need to do is follow these three simple steps:

  1. Contact Katy Teen & Family Counseling, PLLC.

  2. Meet with one of our therapists

  3. Take that first steps on your path of restoring hope and happiness in your life

Other Teen Therapy, Family Counseling, & Young Adult Therapy Services Offered at Katy Teen & Family Counseling

At our Katy, Tx location of Katy Teen & Family Counseling, we have experienced therapists that can help. In addition to teen therapy, young adult counseling, and family therapy, we also provide marriage counseling and couples therapy.

Below are other services we provide at Katy Teen & Family Counseling:

Board Certified Neurofeedback

Peak performance (optimal academic brain performance)

Peak performance (optimal athletic brain performance)

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR Therapy)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

About the Author

Man standing in front of a tan, brick wall, wearing a blue pin stripe dress shirt, tan sports coat, smiling. He provides marriage counseling katy, tx and couples therapy katy, tx 77494. He also provides couples counseling katy, tx 77494.

Quique Autrey is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). Quique specializes in teen therapy, young adult counseling, couples therapy, and marriage counseling. Quique has helped others overcome challenges that include trauma, PTSD, depression, anxiety, social anxiety, panic attacks, ADHD, and more.

Quique views each individual through that lens and provides therapy for the family system which includes teen therapy, young adult counseling, family counseling, marriage counseling & couples therapy.

Quique also has a passion for helping teens, young adults, and adults who may be on the Autism Spectrum. He has a talent for connecting with and helping people with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

If you're ready to start your healing journey in teen therapy, you can call us at 346-202-4662 or email us at

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