Human Beings are creatures of emotion. Living wholeheartedly means embracing these emotions without being defined by them. Emotions are part of the suite of human capacities that enable us to navigate our relationships. We are afraid or angry in the face of perceived threats to our own flourishing or survival and desire things we perceive as good for us. Humans take pleasure in the enjoyment of things that are good and are sad when they perceive a lack of good things. Sometimes these emotions can come to be associated with things that are inappropriate. We may be angry at someone when in fact the circumstances that have given rise to our anger are a result of our own actions. We may be dominated by a fear of something, such as open spaces, that from a statistical point of view, is highly unlikely to kill us. We may desire things that are not really good for us or take pleasure in things that are harmful such as the classical vices of envy, gluttony, lust and greed. We may become deeply depressed in circumstances which materially-speaking really are not that bad. These examples illustrate how emotions, like so many of the attributes of the human person, are good for us. Emotions help us to flourish when we learn to experience, understand and act on them in an appropriate way. However, emotions can be damaging to us if they dominate us.
Key to understanding the notion of emotional and affective maturity is a proper acknowledgment of the importance of human freedom in the integration of our emotions. Created in the image of God, human beings are rational and free. When emotions come to dominate our thinking and acting in a way that compromises our freedom, then we are not living the fully human lives that we are created to live. When, however, our emotions are integrated through our rationality and freedom into our efforts to fulfil our calling to live wholeheartedly—to stand up for love—then emotions play an essential part in realizing human flourishing. The classical language of the Catholic tradition expresses this human flourishing using the emotive term happiness.
Happiness, beatitude, or flourishing is, according to classical philosophical and Catholic tradition, the thing that all human beings desire and which will ultimately be found in eternal life with God. Because we are endowed with reason and freedom by God we are able to experience a 'not-yet' perfect version of that happiness here and now. As images of God, that is, as God's representatives on Earth, we are able to work for the realisation of this happiness, this flourishing. Through our moral behaviour, moral choices and moral actions we can incarnate God's love in the world. In this way, we can literally make the world and ourselves, happier. Our emotions function to help us to perceive those things which are good because they contribute to this happiness, and those things which are bad or evil because they may ultimately frustrate the realisation of true happiness.
Sadness, in itself, is neither morally good, nor morally bad. But, like all emotions, it is morally significant. Like all emotions it helps us to identify situations about which we may have to make moral choices about what to do and in which what we choose to do (or not to do) can be called morally right or morally wrong. Put another way, sadness, in itself, is a good thing. As with all emotions sadness is given by God to help us to work out how best to bring about true human flourishing, that is, to participate in the happiness or beatitude that God promises all human beings. When we feel sad, it is usually because we identify some object or person or situation as evil. When the tradition uses the term 'evil' in this context, it is not necessarily referring to something that is morally evil. Instead, it is referring to anything that could be deemed bad for our flourishing, anything that frustrates the good for which we are created and to which we are called. That's why the death of a loved one makes us sad or hearing bad news makes us sad. Being constantly bullied makes us sad, or being in a negative situation where we can't see a way out makes us sad. How we respond to feelings of sadness is the most important thing. Such feelings help us to perceive what is really important to us. The next step is to find ways to work towards changing the situation to realise those good things or change those bad things. Sometimes, changing a situation is beyond our control but we can learn how to handle difficult emotions. However, when sadness overwhelms us and dominates our lives, as in the case of clinical depression, then it is not good for us. Sadness in this case no longer serves a good purpose because it does not actually help us to accurately identify the good and evil in our lives. Being dominated by sadness to such a degree does not contribute to our flourishing. When this happens, seeking help is very important.
Anger, considered in itself, is neither morally good nor morally bad. But anger is morally significant. Like all emotions anger helps us to perceive situations about which we may have to make moral choices about what to do. What we choose to do or not to do can be called morally right or morally wrong. Put another way, anger, in itself, is a good thing. As with all emotions anger is given by God to help us to work out how best to bring about true human flourishing through participating in the happiness or beatitude that God promises all human beings. We feel angry because we want to resist something or some situation that we perceive as bad or evil, something that frustrates human flourishing. Most frequently, this frustration arises in situations where we believe something to be rightfully due to ourselves or to someone else and a person, institution, or circumstance interferes with a person receiving what is due to them. When this happens we become angry. We are angered by murder because the murderer has denied the value of the life of the person murdered. We are angered when someone insults us or someone we love, because we feel personal dignity has been disrespected. We are angered by extreme poverty because we see the ways in which unjust economic and political systems create situations that make it impossible for people to flourish. The appropriate response to anger is to find ways to change that situation and restore justice. Usually, though not always, impulsive responses in which anger takes over as rage or a desire for revenge are not the best kinds of response. Indeed, the Catholic tradition holds such feelings to be morally bad because they can lead to actions that in their turn ultimately deny the dignity of all human beings and diminish the happiness that God wills for all human beings. If our anger leads us to actions that entail denigrating others in the mistaken belief that such behaviour will somehow restore justice then those actions and that anger becomes morally bad. Affective maturity requires learning how to manage anger so that it can serve the good of human flourishing and not turn into the vice of wrath.
Guilt and Shame are complex and interrelated feelings. Our discussion here focuses on guilt and shame as affective, emotional responses in relation to specific objects or situations. Considered in themselves as psychological phenomena neither guilt nor shame is morally bad. But both are morally significant. In fact, when talking about morality, it is frequently feelings of guilt or shame that we associate with the belief that we have done something morally wrong. Such a belief manifests itself in a range of feelings. We feel that we are not worthy of love, respect and justice and that that other people do not think us worthy of love, respect and justice either. Shame and guilt, then, are emotions that reflect and shape the sort of person we are. Shame and guilt shape our character. Shame is the opposite of pride or of a healthy sense of self-worth. Shame is a feeling that can arise in a number of situations two of which are particularly important here. In the first place shame is the affective response or feeling when something we have done is deemed to be morally wrong in our own eyes or in the eyes of friends and others whose opinion impacts significantly upon our own sense of self worth. The same can be said about the impact of the disapproval of the wider society. Shame is the feeling that arises when supposed truths about ourselves, about which we are not proud, are brought to mind in our own reflection about ourselves and the consequences of our misdeeds being public either in fact or in our imagination. Second, shame can also be future-orientated as a response to possible actions that would contravene our deepest moral convictions. In that sense shame is the sentinel of our moral horizon. Third, shame is the emotional response or feeling that arises when we perceive ourselves to have been unjustly humiliated by someone else or treated as less worthy of decent treatment or respect by others. It is a feeling that can arise when we think that people have unjustifiably treated us as their inferiors. These forms of shame, arising from our own behaviour or from the behaviour of others, result in an affective sense of oneself or a feeling about oneself that is the opposite of a healthy sense of self-worth. To defend one's sense of self-worth and protect oneself from shame entails either trying to hide oneself and extract oneself from the shame-inducing situation or attempting to turn on the perceived cause of shame, seeking retribution against others. Self harm may also be a means of self-protection against a shame-inducing situation. Bullying, domestic violence, racism and sexism, are examples of the kinds of behaviour that can lead people to experience feelings of shame and provoke the desire to hide from or hurt those who seem to be causing the feelings of shame. Sometimes, when it is not possible to hide from or hurt the perceived cause, a person may redirect those negative energies to someone perceived to be inferior or to someone who is an easier target. In other words, feelings of shame can lead to a cycle of shame and violence against oneself or others. In such a context shame becomes corrosive. Affective maturity entails recognizing shame for what it is, namely, a morally relevant emotional cue to alert us to the possibility that something that we are doing, or something that someone else is doing might be morally wrong. The next step is to address the causes of these feelings in a constructive way that does not simply repeat the cycle of shame and violence. See the section on Anger above.
Catholic teaching recognises the worth of each individual and therefore rejects the humiliation of one person by another. From a Catholic perspective, relationships characterised by feelings of shame fall short of the ideal. Catholic teaching envisions a society in which truth and trust are the basis of relationships and in which relationships characterised by shame have no legitimate place. (see paragraph in Intimacy and Communication section in Part III). The statement above has to be correctly understood. As we have explained above, self awareness of feelings of shame can be healthy and constructive but also unhealthy and destructive. A key to realising a society in which relationships are characterized by truth and trust involves a twofold strategy. First, nobody should be shamed or humiliated by another. This is at the heart of the concept of mercy. If we allow humiliation and shaming, then those who feel shame are more likely to try to hide their shame, and to potentially harm themselves or others. This is the case whether the shame arises from real or imagined truths about the person feeling personally shamed or whether the shame arises from real or imagined truths about others. Second, truth must be encouraged and welcomed. This can only happen in a safe environment. A safe environment is one which will not shame those who tell the truth about themselves or about others. In a safe environment an open, honest dialogue can begin to occur focused on who we think we are, what we think we should do, and who we would like to be. Such a dialogue will help to reveal those cases where feelings of shame are legitimate and should be remedied by changing one's own behaviour. Dialogue will also uncover those cases where shame is based on untrue beliefs about oneself and about one's own behaviour or the behaviour of others. Building relationships characterized by truth and trust involves working towards truer understandings of oneself and others.
Guilt is a sense of estrangement; an awareness of a gap between us and God as love. The word guilt is used to describe an individual's sense of responsibility or perception of fault for doing something that is morally wrong or for failing to do something that one should have done. Sometimes, these feelings of guilt are simply that, feelings of guilt. For example, if you are driving and spot a police car in the rear-view mirror you might experience feelings of guilt. You just have a feeling that you might have done something wrong even if this is not in fact the case. This is to be distinguished from the conviction of that you actually have done something morally wrong based on the judgment of your conscience (see section on Conscience below). The affective 'sense' accompanying true guilt is always about, or in response to, something specific that we have done or failed to do. This authentic conviction of guilt can lead to feelings of shame. But it might also lead to a desire to reconcile with those whom one has harmed and to a resolution to make things right again. These authentic feelings of guilt lead to what the Catholic tradition sometimes refers to as conversion. Conversion involves a turning around, a desire for forgiveness and a desire to actually seek forgiveness for one's wrongdoing., Conversion also involves seeking reconciliation with others and with the community. Affective maturity entails taking careful note of feelings of guilt and learning to distinguish between those that are simply feelings and those that are related to real wrongs. Taking steps to correct rather than ignore real wrongs is an important sign of affective maturity.
In the Catholic Tradition, Baptism is the primary reconciling sacrament. Through Jesus, all things are made new, all things are restored and redeemed. Christians believe that baptism removes the stain of original sin, allowing us into the reign of God. In other words, we are no longer held responsible for things we did not choose to do. However, we are still held responsible for our sins, that is for those wrongs which we freely choose. The good news is that here too, forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation with God and others is possible. Another way in which feelings of anger, shame, and guilt can be evaluated and addressed is through the Sacrament of Penance also called confession, conversion or reconciliation. In a safe and confidential space an individual is able to reflect honestly on their personal behaviour as well as the behaviour of others. Individuals take ownership of those aspects of their behaviour that are legitimately morally wrong. They seek forgiveness for these failings and recommit themselves to working for what is true, what is good and what is right. Because this Penance is a sacrament Catholics believe that God's mercy and love supports those who are trying to be honest about themselves and their behaviour. The sacrament of Penance provides forgiveness for those who are truly contrite and sustains them in their commitment to be better people, to live whole-heartedly and to work for the flourishing of all.