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The Anatomy of Emotions


In Section 1 (The Origin of Emotions) I explained the way in which I think emotions come into being, as depicted on the Wanterfall Chart. The Wanterfall model (or Wanterfall approach) which the chart illustrates, led us on to the idea of Wanterfall work – recently defined, but still lacking one of its two supporting pillars.

Along the way, I have repeatedly implied that I think emotions are very important. Because I think that, I will now look at them in more detail. And if you also think that, then I daresay you will look at them with me.

There are many words which convey emotional meaning, but I have yet to find an emotion that is not either included in, or derived from, one or more of the primary emotions shown on the Wanterfall Chart. So you will probably not be surprised to discover that I am going to take those six primary emotions as my starting point for this section.

The Six Primary Emotions

Six words, each of which represents a group of emotions, are shown on the Wanterfall flow chart in bold italic on a shaded background. I chose these six "primary emotions", and arranged them in the order in which you see them, in an attempt to create a visual depiction of the basic emotional responses that result from wanting something. (A great deal of scribbling and scrunching was involved, over a period of almost thirty years, before I settled on these six words.)

For better or worse, I had to resort to inventing one of the six words, propathy, as I could not find a satisfactory antonym for antipathy in the dictionary. I gave a formal definition of propathy under The Wanterfall Model of Emotions, but I will discuss it more fully below.

In describing primary emotions, I am aiming to cover general types of feeling, rather than very specific feelings. The task of each primary emotion is to cover a range of feelings, which may differ a little in various ways, but are similar as regards their basic flavour.

So each primary emotion is really an umbrella term for a group of related emotions. And the six primary emotions together are a bit like a library, in which all simple emotions can be found – and from which compound emotions, which include two or more primary emotions, can also be derived.

I have chosen these particular emotions as the primary group simply because they do the job required of them, as described in the previous paragraph, better than any of the other combinations I have tried over the years. Here they are again:







As you can see, I have arranged them in the same layout in which they appear on the Wanterfall Chart.

On the left are the primary emotions associated with getting what you want (or avoiding what you want to avoid – which is the outcome you want). On the right are those associated with not getting what you want (or getting what you want to avoid – which is not the outcome you want).

For each primary emotion on the left, there is a primary emotion on the right which may be considered its opposite – or, as one is always lurking in the background of the other, they may be thought of as the two sides of one metaphorical coin.[20]

I will first discuss each primary emotion by itself, giving its meaning as used in this book, and then I will consider various combinations of primary emotions. As I mentioned, the meanings of all the primary emotions are intended in a broad, general sense, so that they can fulfil their umbrella functions – hopefully without too many demarcation disputes.


Hope is used in various ways, both as noun and verb, but perhaps its commonest meaning is a wish that some desire will be fulfilled – often, though not always, with a fair degree of optimism about the outcome. Thus, whenever we want to get something (or avoid it) we hope that we will get it (or avoid it).

While thinking mainly of the desired result, we often feel reasonably optimistic. But we rarely forget the possibility of the unwanted result for very long, and when we remember it, at least a little fear creeps into the picture. This optimistic, but uncertain, wishful anticipation of an outcome that we want, gives the general flavour of the primary emotion hope.

Incidentally, in the Christian tradition, there is an idea that hope (well, it is called hope in some translations) is a virtue[21] – along with faith and charity (which are also replaced by different words in different translations). However, for the purposes of this book, the primary emotion that I call hope, as described above, is neither virtuous nor wicked. It is simply – as defined above.


Fear also has various meanings, both as noun and verb, but its commonest meaning is the unpleasant subjective effect of the apprehension of possible danger or pain, or any other outcome considered adverse by the subject – including unknown outcomes. It is often associated with an urge to escape. All of this gives the general flavour of the primary emotion fear.

Again, there is usually a little of its opposite, lurking nearby. Thus, whenever we have prior knowledge (or suspicion) of an outcome we consider adverse, we hope to avoid it, but we fear we may not avoid it. In the case of a desired outcome, we hope to achieve it, but we fear we may not achieve it.

The fear of not getting what we want is not quite the same as the fear induced by physical danger. Nevertheless, they are closely analogous, and the "fight-or-flight response" seen with danger often occurs to some degree with fear not due to danger. (This physiological response includes the release of adrenaline, often causing disconcerting physical sensations, which tend to engender more fear – creating a most unpleasant vicious circle. I discuss this in some detail in another publication.[22])

Incidentally, in many traditions it is believed that fear is a shameful weakness. I strongly recommend not suggesting that to a war veteran, or anyone else who has faced great danger. In any case, for the purposes of this book, the primary emotion that I call fear, as described above, is neither reprehensible nor admirable. As with hope, it is simply – as defined above.


Happiness is a state characterised by some or all of: well-being, contentment, enjoyment, felicity, feeling pleased, feeling satisfied; or perhaps just feeling that things are really good, just the way they are. This is the general flavour of the primary emotion happiness.[23]

Happiness usually occurs, or is intensified, when our desires are fulfilled. That is, when we get what we want – or avoid what we want to avoid. It often continues, though usually at a less intense level, as long as the wanted result persists. But it is very vulnerable to anything that threatens to disturb that state.

There are various other words, such as bliss, euphoria, rapture and ecstasy, that are sometimes used to denote extreme forms of happiness, but at other times have different meanings. The word joy is also used for great happiness. However, because of its frequent use by philosophers when describing an alleged state of mind which is not conditional on external factors, I have not included it in the primary emotion happiness.[24]


Sadness, also called unhappiness, is a state characterised by some or all of: sorrow, misery, dejection, despair, displeasure, dissatisfaction, despondency, disconsolateness, dolefulness, mournfulness, gloom; or perhaps just feeling that things are really bad the way they are. This is the general flavour of the primary emotion sadness.[25]

Sadness usually occurs, or is intensified, when our desires are not fulfilled. That is, when we don't get what we want – or do get what we don't want. It often continues, perhaps at a less intense level, while that unwanted state persists. It is usually relieved, to a varying degree, by any improvement in the unwanted state.

Incidentally, although sadness is one of the features of grief, and also of depressive disorders, it does not define either of those conditions, nor is it limited to them. (I will have a lot to say about grief later in this book, but depressive disorders are outside its scope.)


As I discussed when introducing and describing the Wanterfall Chart, propathy is a word coined by me for this book, simply because the Wanterfall model requires an opposite to antipathy. It is a general term which covers friendly feelings like affection, amity, approval, cordiality, fondness, goodwill, liking and warmth, as well as some of the meanings of the much overworked word love. So propathy, while it lasts, is nice and warm and fuzzy.

Propathy is usually felt towards a person when that person is perceived as being partly or wholly instrumental in bringing about one's happiness. It usually disappears quickly, sometimes being replaced by antipathy (see below) if the person has the effrontery to withdraw or reverse this influence.[26] Propathy may also be felt to some extent, albeit not very logically, when one's happiness has occurred without any help from a person.

Among the friendly feelings listed above as being included within propathy were "some of the meanings of the much overworked word love". That suggests that not all of its meanings are included – and they are not. Those that are not included, of course, have nothing to do with this book. They are wondered about elsewhere.[27] Nevertheless, I will mention them briefly – just to explain why I exclude them from the umbrella of propathy.

Things Excluded from Propathy

The first of these is difficult to discuss, for two reasons. Firstly, it may not exist at all; and secondly, even if it does, there is no satisfactory name for it. But having noted the conditional nature of propathy (and every other emotion) the question naturally arises, whether there could perhaps be some sort of love-ish thing which is not conditional.

Some of those who suggest that there is such a thing, call it unconditional love. Others call it Love (with a capital L). I will do that, on the few occasions on which I refer to the idea at all (in this book). Sometimes, it is given a completely new name; or perhaps a name borrowed from another language. In those cases, though it may not always be understood, it will at least not be confused with other things referred to as "love".

It may be a simple enough concept, but it is certainly not easy to capture it in words. Fortunately, all I really need to say about Love in this book is that, if it exists, it does so outside the definition of propathy. It could not possibly have anything to do with propathy, because propathy is a result – it always depends on something – it is always conditional. Therefore Love, which is not conditional, cannot be part of propathy.

So much for whatever that last thing was – or wasn't. There are three more things that I want to exclude, and they have so much in common that I think of them as variations on a single theme. They are sympathy, empathy and compassion. I have nothing against any of them – rather the opposite – which immediately raises the suspicion that they should not be limited to the conditional umbrella of propathy – or allowed in at all.

Much is sometimes made of the distinctions between these three words – but mostly by psychologists and counsellors, rather than dictionaries. Dictionaries seem to think the three terms are very close in meaning, and so do I – because their definitions overlap far more than they differ.

The common meaning that they share is understanding and sharing the feelings of another person – especially one suffering from misfortune – combined with an urge to help if possible. That's simple enough. What about the differences?

Well, perhaps sympathy emphasises the misfortune element, and may sometimes include a touch of schadenfreude. Perhaps compassion emphasises the helping element, and may sometimes include a touch of holiness. And perhaps empathy is too well trained to emphasise anything, and may sometimes include a touch of distance.

But in essence, these three words do approximately the same job. Sometimes, they are given particular meanings by particular authors. As long as they explain what they mean, I guess that's OK. But in general, I feel sure they are just different expressions of the same – well, the same something.

And what something is that? I don't really know, but those three words do have an irritating habit of not requiring adequate recompense. At the very least, this makes them guilty of consorting with Love – a capital crime in the Wanterfall jurisdiction, where conditionality rules without question.

Propathy may be warm and fuzzy as all get out, but it is pointing in your direction only as long as you continue to earn it – one way or another. Whereas the kindly triplets sympathy, empathy and compassion, though they may rub shoulders with propathy quite often, and perhaps be influenced by it when they do, were surely born far beyond the Wanterfall.

Perhaps these triplets descend into our environment of conditionality simply because that is where they are needed. Then, when their work is done, they fly away. I don't know where they go, but I have searched the Wanterfall up, down and sideways, and I don't think they live there. So off with their heads. They have no place in propathy – or in this book at all.


Antipathy is a general term that covers unfriendly feelings like anger, irritability, frustration, animosity, antagonism, aversion, coldness, detestation, dislike, disapproval, enmity, hatred, hostility, ill will, malice and repugnance. In some cases there is a "short fuse", with rapid transition to overt aggression.

Antipathy seems more logical when a person is perceived as being partly or wholly instrumental in causing sadness. If the person is later perceived as being partly or wholly instrumental in removing the sadness, or replacing it with happiness, antipathy usually subsides, to be replaced (sometimes slowly) by a varying degree of propathy.

Remarkably often, however, antipathy is also felt in the absence of a human instrument. In this situation, religious people often deputise God[28] as the responsible instrument, and feel intensely angry with God. Others just feel intensely angry, without knowing who or what they are angry with. However, they frequently direct their anger at anyone who comes within range – sometimes with very destructive effects.

Antipathy is often viewed as being entirely counterproductive. However, feelings like anger, frustration and aversion can engender a powerful motivation to strive for change – which might be a change for the better, at least in some cases. This is not to suggest that unresolved painful emotions are recommended – just that any benefit is better than none.


(Click the number of a footnote to return to its reference in the text)

[20] As mentioned elsewhere, the two "opposites" of each duality are really arbitrary designators of the two directions from the centre of a continuum. This simplification is useful here, but will be dispensed with in Section 3.

[21] This is based, rather weakly in my opinion, on 1 Corinthians 13:13.

[22] When a threat is perceived, neuronal signals travel from the cerebral cortex to the sympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system (a specialised part of the peripheral nervous system which automatically controls all those bodily functions that go on constantly without our conscious awareness). The autonomic nervous system then responds by stimulating the release of adrenaline (as well as various other substances) from nerve endings in many parts of the body, and also from the adrenal glands. This enhances the body's ability to make the extreme efforts necessary either during combat or when escaping from danger, hence the name "fight or flight response". However, it also causes various other effects (some of which can sometimes precipitate or prolong an anxiety state). This is discussed in more detail in the draft publication An Introduction to Mental Illness, but work on this draft has been delayed and may not proceed. Instead, the "vicious circle of anxiety" will probably be the topic of a future article in the Wanterfall eBooks Self-Help series.

[23] Mental states caused by a mood disorder, a drug or a physical illness are excluded from this definition – they are different phenomena.

[24] All the primary emotions are conditional upon circumstances – the Wanterfall consists only of reactions to circumstances (the circumstance of getting what you want, and the circumstance of not getting what you want).

[25] Mental states caused by a mood disorder, a drug or a physical illness are again excluded.

[26] The warm and friendly, but conditional, nature of propathy is similar to the conditional love described by some authors, notably the late Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.

[27] Philosophical Musings, a gradually growing series of articles published by Wanterfall eBooks.

[28] Kübler-Ross always encouraged clients to give full vent to this feeling, reassuring them that "God can take it". (None were struck by lightning).

(Click the number of a footnote to return to its reference in the text)


Two flowers with wantertao symbol


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