Police Psychology | The Myth of Emotional Opposites

Posted: April 2, 2015 in Mastering Emotions
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The Myth of Emotional Opposites



People tend to see emotions in terms of their opposites…but does this mindset negatively effect your mental health?

In therapy, while working in police psychology, I have learned that very negative people tend to suffer from “Shit City Syndrome,” meaning that their cynicism and view of life cause them to see all the bad parts of a situation.  Then they complain that they aren’t enjoying life.  Realize that your evaluations of the world cause you to create your world while you are evaluating it.  Essentially, if you see yourself in “shit city” you will live in “shit city” and lead a miserable existence.  It is sort of a turn on the self-fulfilling prophecy which is basically the evaluation of the self creates the self as you interact with the world.

To overcome this syndrome I use the Myth of Emotional Opposites.  I use this in my speeches, as well as, in my therapy.

I first ask the person what is the opposite of “pain,” and invariably get the word “pleasure.”  I ask then the opposite of “love,” and get the answer “hate.”  Finally, I ask for the opposite of “happy,” and get “sad” as the answer.  This is the setup, as I have gotten the same answers in a room full of mental health professionals, just like I’ve gotten the answer in a room full of everyday people.

I then have the person visualize that they have a compound fracture of the leg.  They fell over the doorway and broke their leg badly.  The bone is sticking out.  I ask them if they are in pain and they invariably reply yes.  Then, I tell them at the same time as they are writhing in pain waiting for the ambulance to come, their friend comes over and says, “remember last week when we were at that seminar with the fat guy (me) and we bought a lottery ticket.  Well, I just found out we won 134 million dollars.”  I then ask “Now, are you still in pain?”

I get stumbling when I ask this second question.  They can’t make sense of it.  Pain and pleasure are opposites; they can’t exist together.  Are you in pain or pleasure?  On the continuum line, pain and pleasure are on the opposite ends, so which is it?  You’re definitely in pain; you have a compound fracture.  And, if you are not in pleasure after winning 67 million dollars you’re a little weird.  I mean, you can’t be in love and hate someone at the same time, or can you?  You can’t be happy and sad at the same time, can you?

The Myth Revealed

Then I make my point, pain and pleasure are not opposites.  The opposite of an emotion or a feeling is not another emotion; it is the lack of an emotion.  The opposite of pain is no feeling.  The opposite of pleasure is no feeling.  The opposite of love is indifference; the opposite of hate is no feeling.  And this simple concept can lift you out of Shit City.

You see, the natural tendency for people is if there is a negative feeling, they don’t allow positive feelings to exist, or they reduce the positive feeling so much it has no value.  Emotional Shit City!  But our life has many different facets and we can be unhappy about say the relationship in our life and be happy about the amount of money we earn.  Or we can be sad for a loss in our life, but still enjoy the joys of an errant rose or a nice email card.  Our need is to focus on the parts of life that are going well, and allow time and other healing methods to happen in the bad areas.

Remove Stress with this Powerful Technique


Find the good things in your life, and focus on them, instead of letting the bad overwhelm you.

Now it may sound a long way to go to teach a concept most people know that is common sense.  But remember, people don’t live with common sense.  In fact, common sense is not common at all.  They lose commons sense in emotion.  This technique has had a profound impact on people going through a grief process, people having problems with a teenager, people who have lost a love in their life, or even people after a critical incident.  It lessens the load and gives them permission to have some fun without feeling guilty because they have one bad thing in their life.  It is a powerful technique and can stop a person from feeling overwhelmed and consumed with something that happened to them. Implementing such a technique can help put the happiness and simplicity back in your life. 

Good luck with it if you choose to try it.

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Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP

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