Disgust is one of the seven universal emotions and arises as a feeling of aversion towards something offensive. We can feel disgusted by something we perceive with our physical senses (sight, smell, touch, sound, taste), by the actions or appearances of people, and even by ideas.
We feel disgusted every day in response to a huge variety of objects and situations. Smelling sour milk, stepping in dog excrement, and seeing a used bandage all elicit feelings of disgust.
However, we may also feel disgusted when we are witness to flagrant racism, and when we are confronted with growing wealth inequality.
Few general things to know about disgust
• It’s a core emotion meaning it tells us something important about how our environment is or was affecting us. We benefit greatly when we learn to listen to core emotions, as opposed to avoiding them as we are taught to do in our society.
• It’s one of the first emotions to have evolved, probably to facilitate survival by immediately expelling something that could make us sick, like a poisonous berry or rotting meat.
• Disgust often comes up in response to poisonous or toxic people, where deep trust and love has been betrayed.
• We naturally feel disgusted in response to someone who has abused us.
• Validating disgust can decrease anxiety and shame from trauma.
• We can sense disgust physically as revulsion, nausea, or as an impulse to get something out of you, like an abuser who has been internalized.
• Disgust has impulses that can be brought into awareness.
• When disgust is processed, the nervous system will reset to calmer and more regulated states of being.
How Disgust Can Become a Problem?
Disgust is a normal part of life, but it can cause enough distress and interfere with things to be a significant problem for some people. Disgust is a component of many different psychological conditions, including generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and phobias of injury/animals.
People with fears of blood, injury, or needle sticks can experience sudden drops in blood pressure, leading to fainting related to disgust about bodily harm. People with insect, spider, snake, or animal phobias often report a feeling of disgust that is more intense than their feelings of fear.
People diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder can worry about the cleanliness of objects and keeping themselves and their loved ones safe from illness, injury, and disease. These worries can continue even after proper cleanliness and safety measures are conducted and can cause significant stress.
Persons suffering from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder can have intense fear reactions triggered by contamination or fears of possible contamination.
People with OCD can spend hours trying to prevent the spread of real or imagined germs, chemicals, or viruses. These fears can become debilitating.
Ways to Deal with the Emotion
Accepting things that we dislike can lower our stress reactions to them. We may never like disgusting things like insects or intense injuries, but the more we struggle against disliking something, the more space it will take up in our minds and our lives. Unlike other difficult emotions, disgust involves very little thinking.
Accepting disgust is primarily a matter of not fighting the sensations and urges to avoid that disgust creates. Until you have the experience of feeling disgusted without struggle, this may seem impossible. Still, with practice, you may be able to feel disgusted without pushing it away.
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