Disgust is one of the seven basic emotions identified by Dr. Paul Ekman and the one that generally receives the least attention of the lot.
It arises as a feeling of revulsion towards something offensive, perceived either with our physical senses or by the actions of people, and even by ideas.
It can range from mild dislike to intense loathing. Have you ever felt affronted, appalled, disinclined, displeasured, nauseated, outraged, repulsed, sickened? These are all forms of disgust.
And whilst some triggers for disgust are more culturally and individually influenced, some are universal with a few general themes that run throughout: animals/bugs, atypical appearance, lesions/blood, sex, food, hygiene, pathogens and moral disgust.
You may not have thought so, but being a human emotion there is actually good reason for disgust. It is a natural reaction to a stimulus that we feel we should avoid – it protects us from potentially dangerous things and/ or situations, keeping us safe and healthy by placing limits on our behaviour and what we will engage with.
Even the physical changes to our face at the time are designed to protect us. The most obvious signs of disgust are the wrinkling of the nose and raised upper lip (closes the nasal passage protecting us from fumes), and lowered eyebrows (squinting our eyes shields them from damage). Sometimes this is accompanied by vocal expressions like “ew”.
Interestingly, research shows that when something evokes disgust in us by those we are close to, our reaction is lessened enough so that we’re able to help those we care about.
However, while disgust may have its ups it also has its downs. As individuals it becomes challenging when it interferes with one’s ability to lead a normal life, and as a society it can be a driving force in dehumanizing and degrading others. But most dangerous of all is disgust towards oneself.
This a complex feeling which is ultimately the result of much deeper unresolved issues. It is not disgust towards external objects, people or situations but rather inner feelings of shame and disappointment most likely projected onto the individual by someone else.
In this case it’s the unresolved issues that need to be addressed with talk and behaviour therapies. If you struggle with unresolved issues, Quandary Pond can help you!