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Negative Emotions

The term “negative emotions” as understood in the Work is distinguished from momentarily feeling bad. The Work defines negative emotions as mechanical, patterned ways of reacting, no matter the circumstance. They can be seen as “stuck energy,” that can be released with non-critical self-observation, non-identification and Self-remembering. The term “negative” is not to be understood moralistically or as self-judgment.


The Work says negative emotions lie and are always wrong. How can a feeling lie and be wrong? A negative emotion in the Work is not just a feeling; it is a feeling wrongly stuck to a thought and usually has an accompanying sensation. It’s a frozen error of perception that repeatedly convinces us that something is wrong or bad, resulting in this thought-feeling.  In other words, it self-justifies its existence and in this, it is always in error.


A negative emotion is always characterized by identification. For example, if we are over-identified with affection and esteem, our feeling of I swings between feeling downcast or elated, depending on our perception of others’ opinion of us. As Work students, we become able to simply self-observe, non-identify and Self-remember around extreme feelings at either end of the pendulum.


“[Expression] of negative emotion is always based on some kind of wrong thinking. …”


“[At] the basis of negative emotions there generally lies a kind of self-indulgence [that] one allows oneself. And if one does not allow oneself fears, one allows anger, and if one does not allow anger, one allows self-pity. Negative emotions are always based on some kind of permission. …

“There is practically no negative emotion which you cannot enjoy, and that is the most difficult thing to realize. Really some people get all their pleasures from negative emotions. …


“We always think our negative emotions are produced by the fault of other people or by the fault of circumstances. We always think that. Our negative emotions are in ourselves and are produced by ourselves. There is absolutely not a single unavoidable reason why somebody else’s action or some circumstance should produce a negative emotion in me. It is only my weakness. No negative emotion can be produced by external causes if we do not want it. We have negative emotions because we permit them, justify them, explain them by external causes, and in this way we do not struggle with them. …”
– P.D. Ouspensky, The Fourth Way


Other distinctions for understanding negative emotions:

  • In the Work, the term, “positive emotions” has a special meaning and does not mean the opposite of negative emotions.
  • Negative emotions are not naturally part of us; they are part of acquired conscience that is added to emotional center in early life and over time.
  • Though small children may cry, they do not have negative emotions, which are defined by persistence and pervasiveness.
  • We “enjoy” our negative emotions; they give us “juice,” like any addiction.
  • Negative emotions are always sign-posts of our own identification – that our feeling of “I” is “stuck” to something.
  • Whatever the seeming cause, external event or person, our negative emotions come from within us, so it is always our “fault” when we are negative. As this is recognized by Work students, we take responsibility for our own negativity.
  • Negative emotions steal energy or force that could be used for transformation. We can become ill due to negative emotions.
  • Negative emotions are very powerful; they can infect others.
  • Unchecked, negative emotions are self-perpetuating, creating more negative emotions and leading to negative states.
  • All negative states, uninterrupted, lead to violence.


Other Work ideas connected with negative emotions are parts of centers, wrong work of centers, lying, pretense, feeling of “I” and acquired conscience.