“Everyone’s pain is in the superlative.” I’m not sure who said this. I heard it from my mother who heard it from her friend, about two decades ago! And I can’t find it on Google.
It basically means that pain is relative and that each person’s pain can seem to them to be the most painful.
So then, can we really peg down the one worst emotion that a human being can ever feel? Let’s see!
The Worst Emotion A Human Can Feel
Fear. It’s fear. The worst emotion to feel is fear because it’s the underlying root cause of all other unpleasant, overwhelming, unmanageable emotions. Fear of being abandoned, fear of not having enough, fear of what people will think, fear of how you will face yourself, fear of losing something dear to you, fear of not being liked by others, fear of failure, fear of being rejected, fear of not being accepted, fear that you’re a terrible person, fear that you will amount to nothing. Fear. Fear. Fear. Fear leads to all other unpleasant emotions that create mental & emotional suffering.
Every time I hear or read about difficult emotions or the worst kind of feelings, I find myself curious to explore whether there might be an emotion worse than fear!
So when conducting research for this article I found a number of different responses in Quora and a few other websites. In fact, the title of this article is an originally-asked-on-Quora question!
Let’s explore what other people are saying, and whether some other emotion might be the worst.
Examples Of The Worst Feeling Ever
This one got nearly thirty-seven thousand upvotes on Quora! While Bharath’s answer has an Indian context to it, it seems to have pulled at a lot of heartstrings. He writes:
“Hearing an elder person calling you Sir/Saheb just because he is in a low paying job and he is obliged to do so…Hurts to the core.”
What emotion might this be? The word hurt is used. But what might be causing the hurt?
It could be a combination of some or all of the following: helplessness, guilt, anger, shame, embarrassment, sadness, empathy, sympathy, or pity.
Another response, which got 8.8 thousand upvotes, has a picture of a child from a seemingly impoverished background, with the statement, “Being a 5-year-old, watching another child eat ice cream while you feed on leftovers. Tell me an emotion worse than this.“
The underlying emotions here are similar to the above example, probable guilt, pity, helplessness, anger, sadness, empathy, etc.
Fear (Of The Future)
Fear of Future has 9.3 thousand upvotes on Quora where the answer says, “This kills you. You stop enjoying your present.“
Many of us experience this fear as anxiety and worry – the strands of thoughts starting with what if, then what, how will this, when will this, but if, etc.
While the writer here says, “The inability to feel…that is the worst emotion a person can have“, and it’s got 4.5 thousand upvotes, indifference isn’t the inability to feel.
Indifference is apathy, not caring, not being concerned. It doesn’t mean that the person is unable to feel. The inability to feel is a symptom of other possible causes.
Indifference is when a person chooses to not care, or be concerned. It’s a different story that indifference actually is a cover emotion to hide other more painful emotions.
Not Being Loved Back
Very close to indifference is not being loved back by the person you love, with 4.2 thousand upvotes.
When your love is not reciprocated you might experience a mixed bag of emotions like sadness, helplessness, worthlessness, despair, hopelessness, desperation, etc.
Worry, Shame, Suffering
Columbus Monthly has a list of 70 emotions ranked from worst to best. Worry, shame, & suffering are the top 3 worst emotions in their list in the order in which they are written here.
According to them worry is both, cripplingly powerful and utterly worthless.
Shame, according to them, is the worst when it is in context to religion. Ex., when your religion says something is a sin, you engage in it, & experience shame (I’d assume, provided it’s conflicting for you).
They haven’t really explained suffering. All they say about suffering is, “Although some people sure seem to enjoy it.”
In my understanding and experience, suffering isn’t a separate emotion. The struggle with an emotion – any emotion – causes suffering.
Depression, Fear, Loneliness
Depression, fear, and loneliness are the top 3 in a list of 25 worst feelings in the world according to The Top Tens website.
I found this article interesting because the website doesn’t define or detail out any of the emotions in the list.
Instead, readers comment what these feelings mean to them, and then those reading the comments can vote for the comments they resonate with.
According to the votes, the top 3 (as of writing this article) are: Depression (39 votes), Shyness (21 votes), and Regret (19 votes) & Unrequited Love (19 votes).
I Vote For Fear
You already knew this coming in, I vote for fear! Allow me to show you why I still stand by fear.
Anger: You fear something important to you will be taken away, and so you get angry.
Anxiety/ Worry: Anxeity and worry are created when there’s fear that something will not work out, or something bad will happen.
Depression: In the fight-flight-freeze model of reaction to threat, depression is a manifestation of freeze. In other words, when circumstances are such that you’re neither able to fight it nor runaway from it, you may choose to play dead, or freeze, a.k.a., depression.
So truly, depression happens when the fears are overwhelming to the extent that one feels frozen to them.
Helplessness – Desperation/ Hopelessness – Despair: I find that helplessness – desperation are on a continuum, and sp are hopelessness – despair.
You fear losing something. If you’re not able to ensure you won’t lose it, you may begin to feel helpless. At some point the helplessness will create desperation.
On realizing that the loss is inevitable, you may experience hopelessness. A continuous sense of hopelessness will create despair.
Shyness/ Embarrassment/ Guilt/ Shame: The core of all four is the fear that I am, or I’ll be perceived to be, bad/ dumb/ not-good-enough – either in my eyes or in others’ eyes, or both.
Indifference: Indifference comes from fear of rejection, usually in interpersonal spaces.
Lonliness: When the fear of not belonging, or feeling that there’s no one who’s got your back, becomes overwhelming, it turns to loneliness.
Regret: Regret, if momentary, can actually be helpful – in which case it won’t be a contestant for the worst feeling!
But if you stew in regret, you’ll see how it follows the feeling of not having done something the way it should have been done, and it has this subtle underlying fear of never being able to undo it.
Sadness: When you want something and there’s the possibility of losing it, there’s fear. Sadness comes in when you do lose it, even if momentarily.
If there was no fear of loss (because of the deeper understanding that nothing is ever yours, thus, nothing can ever be lost), there would be no sadness.
Unrequited Love: Unrequitted love, in and of itself, is not an emotion. It’s a condition that gives rise to multiple emotions, like worthlessness.
Worthlessness: It comes from the fear of being left all alone, of not being important to anyone, of not being seen by anyone, of not amounting to anything. When these fears become overwhelming, one tends to reach the conclusion, “I must be worthless.”
Other Emotions (mentioned above): Empathy/ Sympathy/ Pity: While empathy is known to be a healthy human trait, sympathy might be based in some form of pity.
While pity might not receive the highest regard, all three emotions – pity, empathy, and sympathy – help us relate to others’ suffering. Thus, I won’t count them in the list of “bad – worst” emotions!
I’ll say it again:
Fear is the root emotion of all other unpleasant and difficult emotions.
Why Is Fear The Worst Emotion To Feel?
Here are my 5 top of the mind reasons:
- Fear is what leads to other discomforting emotions.
- Fear can create analysis paralysis which many people struggle with given the myriad choices we have today.
- Fear hijacks the pre-frontal cortex, pushing us into the amygdala which is the survival part of our brain. This makes us reactive instead of responsive, thereby, adding fuel to any heated situation.
- Fear is a strong factor behind most violence in the world.
- Fear creates a scarcity mindset which leads to greed and hoarding. Greed and hoarding at a mass scale look like the economic disparity in the world today.
Are Some Emotions Truly Bad?
Are difficult emotions, like fear, truly bad?
No, I believe not.
I believe emotions that are difficult are difficult primarily because we don’t yet have the skills to work with them.
Most of us never learnt emotional wisdom skills because no one in the world seemed to care for them when we were growing up. Also, many of our caregivers – parents & teachers alike – lacked in them.
If you are of Indian origin, assigned female at birth (woman + LGBTQ+), and have tried many different things to build emotional wisdom – have learned a few things along the way, but find that nothing is resolving things for good, and are now ready to go deeper, then Rooted In Chaos might be just the space you need.
- While there are many emotions that can be difficult, fear is the root of them all, bringing it to the top of the “worst emotions” list.
- From analysis paralysis to being reactive, to a core reason for the world’s economic disparity, there are many reasons why fear is the worst emotion.
- However, it’s not really these emotions that are difficult. Our not having the skills to work with these emotions is what makes them seem difficult.
What do you think? What, according to you, is the worst emotion a person can feel, and why?
Drop your thoughts and questions into the comments box below!