What Are The 6 Types Of Primary Emotions — And Are They Really Universal?

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women showing different types of emotions
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A study conducted by American psychologist Paul Ekman in 1972 gave rise to the discovery of different types of emotions.

The list includes:

  • Anger
  • Disgust
  • Fear
  • Happiness
  • Sadness
  • Surprise

Ekman worked with a closed group of members from the Fori tribe in Papua New Guinea.

What's fascinating is that love isn't included in this list of primary emotions.

RELATED: 5 Ways To Better Connect With Your Emotional Side

All mammals feel many types of emotions, even love. 

Generally, all mammals feel affection, tenderness, and love for their offspring. Even birds exhibit behavior that could arise out of love.

Drawings of emotions on human faces were shown to the members of the tribe. Six of these drawings were recognized, and the rest were rejected.

Perhaps, either the emotion of love was not shown to the members of the tribe or the drawing of this emotion was unrecognizable. It's hard to believe that they didn't feel love.

A little bit about a lot of feelings.

Emotions abound as humans do. People create their reality based on their subconscious programming — their belief system.

The subconscious mind stores memories that have an emotional component to them. These emotions make them either want to turn towards or run away from all that they encounter in life.

Your subconscious mind stores memories to which an emotion is attached. You don't remember things you don't care about.

All memories are either positive or negative and are more of a perception rather than an exact account of what happened. The subconscious is a result of birth order, genetics, ethnicity, and early childhood.

Basics about emotions.

A mentor of mine, Dr. John Kappas, said that there are four categories of emotions — mad, sad, glad, and bad. Every known emotion can fall into one of these categories.

Anger, sorrow, fear, and guilt are the most dominant negative emotions. Surface-level emotions are anger and sorrow, while fear and guilt are deeper emotions. Hurt is what you feel about what others "did" to you.

Cultures dictate how emotion surfaces.

For example, shame experienced by those raised in the U.S. is different than the shame experienced by those raised in India.

In Indian society, shame arises out of the societal: "What will others say?" In the U.S., shame is personal: "I feel bad for not doing this. I'm ashamed of myself."

The mother of all negative emotions is doubt.

Doubt affects self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth. Doubts also lead to worries and keep you struggling forever in the trap of unworthiness.

It's the mother of all emotions that will help you make a decision or not, take action or not, gain or lose. Doubts keep you stuck despite all your blessings and effort.

All self-sabotage has its roots in this negative emotion. Only through grace can you overcome doubts.

The range of human emotions is vast.

The emotions listed by Ekman is quite limiting in its findings, because people definitely feel more than these basic emotions.

You can take these emotions and link them to any of the four listed by Dr. Kappas — mad, sad, glad, and bad. For example:

  • Mad: Anger and fear
  • Bad: Disgust
  • Sad: Sadness
  • Glad: Happiness and surprise

When I ask my client, "Help me understand this mad feeling of yours," the response usually is "I feel _____."

The blank can be any one of the following emotions or more — anger, conflict, upset, irritated, frustrated, resentment, tense, hostile, etc.

What is an emotion?

An emotion is an energy in motion, and all emotions arise out of thoughts.

Try imagining or visualizing tiny twigs wrapped in bubbles and together they float around. The twigs are your thoughts and the bubbles are a cluster of similar emotions attached all around.

Each emotion is either positive or negative.

When charged with positive energy, the emotion has its source in love. Likewise, every emotion with a negative vibration associated with it arises from fear.

There are cultures where love and respect exist, but fear and guilt do not.

There are tribes in India who love snakes because snakes eat rodents and protect their harvest. They don't fear them. They give the snake the space it's owed out of love and respect, not fear.

Guilt is also foreign to many indigenous tribes. If you must talk of guilt to tribal people of various parts of the world, there's no word equal to it in their language.

In East Indian languages, "guilt" would translate to "wrongdoing" or "crime," which are actions, not emotions. In Hindi, the word for "guilty" is gult or gulti, meaning "mistake," "error," or "wrong."

When raising my kids, I taught them one thing: "Never do anything that you need to say sorry for. Saying sorry is not good enough for me. If you must say sorry, then say, 'I'm sorry and I promise never to do it again'." 

They knew they had made a mistake and as they understood their wrongdoing, they had to finish off with, "I promise never to do it again," for their apology to be accepted.

In no Indian language can the word "sorry" be translated to. In the modern world, if an Indian must apologize, the word "sorry" is used because there is no word for it in any of the languages of India.

When an emotional shift occurs within, it's the inner child who grew up a little.

Surprise and disgust come from meeting the unknown. When you see something you didn't know earlier, you feel surprised. But if someone has been raised in fear and hatred, meeting the unknown will create disgust in them. 

Emotions get a lot of lip service but to understand them, you must live through them. People are either givers, takers, or traders.

There's no shame in it. Someone wired to be a giver will experience emotions different than a taker or a trader.

A giver does not know when to stop giving. They have to learn it over time, but never master it.

A taker never knows when to stop taking. You can’t blame a taker for taking because that is their true nature.

A trader always gives with an expectation and is honest about it. You can’t judge a trader for stopping giving when they don’t get back.

RELATED: 6 Things We Do Instead Of Expressing Our Real Emotions (And How It Affects Our Health)

Emotions are not universal and it would be a fallacy to consider it so.

Emotions are part of the energy attached to a thought. Thoughts come from your mindset.

The way you think is largely dependent on your genetics (nature) and your upbringing (nurture). 

You learned certain things unconsciously as an infant. When you were a toddler, your subconscious got filled up with likes and dislikes, which solidified your personality.

Your outlook on life in times of stress stems from your view of the world from when you were seven or younger.

A child raised in wealth and a child raised in poverty sees the world differently. A child with fairer skin and a child of darker skin have different points of view of the world.

A child raised in a fear-driven household interacts with the world differently than a child raised by nurturing and empowering adults. Children who have to fetch water each morning differ in their emotions from children who get driven to school.

The six basic emotions of anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise are not universal.

Hatred gets masked as disgust and a few spread this masked emotion to many. 

Children are born with the fear of loud noises and sudden jerks. When surrounded by healthy reinforcement from care providers, these fears dissolve over time. 

Many people are quite comfortable with the wild creatures of the tropics and live amidst them without fear. In today's world, they know of fear, but they don't feel it themselves.

People who live close to nature in the orient don't fear death — they accept death as a part of life. I've met and read about such men and women — yogis and exalted souls who live in oneness with their surroundings.

There's only one universal emotion: love.

Even fear is a subset of love. If you feel insecure, then your love may show up as fear.

You might fear to lose your object of affection or that they'll get hurt. Such fear is a form of love. 

As a student of subconscious behavior and spiritual growth, I believe that all emotions are born out of love.

Love may show up as anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, or surprise. 

When you cling to love and feel its loss due to separation, you might feel disgusted by your situation. Disgust, in this case, stems from the love of one and lack of love for another.

Just like summer and winter are two aspects of the year, daytime and nighttime are two aspects of one day, so is love and hate two ways of expressing and experiencing the same emotion.

Like any stranger is a friend waiting to happen — surprise is meeting the unknown and not feeling fear.

Finally, love is an indescribable emotion. It's unconditional, non-transactional, eternal, and absolute. You may never be able to put it into words.

If you must learn of love then observe a mother interact with her only child and you will witness love in action, so said the Buddha.

RELATED: Understanding These 6 Emotions Can Change How You Take Care Of Yourself

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Keya Murthy is a Catalyst for Change. Using subconscious behavior strategies and principles of neuro-linguistic programming she helps her clients get their goals in love and life.

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