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Explanations > Emotions > Distress

Focused distress | Unfocused distressSo what


Distress is

When we are upset about something, we feel distress, a generalized sensation of discomfort and emotional arousal.

Distress is the opposite of contentment. Both are general emotional states, one being negatively aroused whilst the other is positively calmed. Contentment comes from goals being achieved, whilst distress occurs when we lose what we have or expect.

A variant sometimes used as an opposite is eustress (a word not found in all dictionaries) which is stress that is positively felt, such as the passion of love. It's opposition to distress is in the negative-positive difference. Contentment is opposite in arousal-calm as well as negative-positive.

Focused distress

When we are distressed about something in particular, we have a focus for our emotions, and the energy of distress may get displaced into more directed emotions such as anger or desperate hope.

Distress often seeks an anchor, for example where betrayal leads to a reaction against the betrayer. Distress may also seek rescue from convenient heroes or parent figures who will comfort our hurt.

Unfocused distress

Sometimes distress does not find a particular anchor and the person is just upset by themselves and may just have to wait until the emotional storm has blown itself out.

Thus when a close friend dies, an unfocused distress may lead to the mourning of loss, whilst focusing that distress may lead to blame of the friend for leaving, blaming God for taking the friend, or, more positively seeking to give and get comfort from others friends.

So what?

When people are distressed, they will often seek rescue. You can be that knight on a white horse, riding in to save the day (and hence creating an obligation for exchange).

You might also cause distress in order to become that rescuer -- but beware of the effects of betrayal that result from being found out!

See also

Contentment, Transactional Analysis

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