What You Need to Know About Secondary Emotions

Have you ever felt that you are sad and angry at the same time? Or confused and determined? Most people are aware that emotions don’t come in one flavor (positive or negative) and that another emotion can accompany them. For example, if people feel happy when they hear great news, they may also experience relief. In psychology, secondary emotions occur when two or more emotions combine to form a new emotion. But what exactly are they? Let’s start with the basics.

What Are Secondary Emotions?

Secondary emotions are feelings you experience because you are feeling a primary emotion. For example, if you are angry, you might feel guilty or sad about something. If you are jealous, you might feel embarrassed or ashamed of yourself.

There are many different emotions, each of which is a complex reaction to something that happens in your life. However, what you feel about an event isn’t just one emotion — it’s often a combination of several different feelings. These secondary emotions can help you understand why you feel the way you do about things in your life.

However, they can sometimes make it more challenging to deal with situations effectively. For example, if someone makes a rude comment to you at work, then it might make sense to be angry with that person — but if they were trying to be funny and didn’t realize how hurtful their comments were, then being angry may not be justified or helpful at all.

Types of Secondary Emotions

There are different types of secondary emotions, and they can be divided into five categories:

Guilt: This is an emotion that arises when a person feels wrong about something they have done.

Shame: It arises when people feel bad about themselves based on their perception of what others think about them.

Resentment: It is an emotion that arises when someone perceives unfair treatment by others regularly (e.g., getting yelled at every time you make a mistake).

Confusion: Confusion is a complex emotion that involves uncertainty and anxiety about the future (e.g., “Will I be able to pay my bills this month?”)

Frustration: This is the feeling of being unable to achieve something you want or need to do. For example, when your computer freezes up while you’re trying to get work done or when someone cuts in front of you in line at the grocery store.

Remorse: Remorse refers to feeling wrong about something that has happened or something someone else has done. It’s like a secondary sadness where you feel guilty about something terrible happening because of something you did or didn’t do.

Related Read: Remorse vs. Regret: Differences, Similarities, and More

Why Are Secondary Emotions Important?

The secondary emotions are the feelings that are caused by the primary emotions. For example, when you feel love, there will be secondary emotions such as joy, contentment, and commitment. They help us sense our primary emotions and what they mean in our lives.

For example, if we feel fear and anxiety about something, this can lead to stress and other adverse health consequences if we do not manage those feelings effectively. However, if we also feel positive emotions such as happiness and contentment, this can help us manage stress more effectively and prevent it from occurring at all!

Another theory of how emotions work in our brains says that one system controls all of our emotions and motivations. This system uses chemicals called neurotransmitters to communicate with other parts of our brain and body. In this theory, there are no secondary emotions, but all emotions are equal or at least have equal potential for being expressed as actions or thoughts.

Secondary emotions are essential because they can help us to make better decisions. The first step in deciding is gathering as much information as possible about the situation. For example, if you are trying to choose between two jobs, it is essential to understand each job’s pros and cons to make an informed decision.

When we have too much information or too little time to process it, our brains jump straight to an emotional response. This means that if we aren’t careful, we might make decisions based on feelings rather than facts — which can lead us astray.

Primary Emotions vs. Secondary Emotions: What’s the Difference

Primary emotions are the basic, instinctive emotions intrinsic to human beings. They’re more primitive and animalistic, including anger, fear, happiness, and sadness.

Secondary emotions are more complex and developed than primary emotions. They are learned through experience and can be influenced by culture and values. Examples of secondary emotions include guilt, pride, jealousy, and love. Here’s how each type of emotion is different:

Primary Emotions

The main purpose of primary emotions is to alert us to danger or essential information in our environment. For example, when we feel afraid or angry, it’s because we think something is wrong or out of place. There aren’t many situations where these feelings are appropriate — they’re primarily used in emergencies where immediate action is required.

Secondary Emotions

Secondary emotions serve a different purpose than primary ones do; they help us make sense of our experiences so we can learn from them and adjust our behavior accordingly in the future. If you ever feel guilty about something you did or feel jealous over someone else getting something you wanted, those are secondary emotions at work.

Secondary Emotions and Motivational Component

The motivational component of secondary emotions makes them different from primary emotions. Consider the difference between “I am angry” and “I am angry at you.” In the first case, anger is an end; in the second, it is a means to an end — getting revenge or making someone else suffer for your inner pain.

When you feel secondary emotions like love and pride, you may feel happy or proud of yourself, but chemicals do not drive those feelings in your brain as serotonin or dopamine; they’re driven by thoughts that make you want to accomplish something important or valuable in life (in other words they’re rational).

Related Read: What Are Mixed Feelings?

Final Thoughts

Emotions, according to psychology, are reactions that are not only automatic and spontaneous but also powerful and observable. These reactions may occur instinctively as the result of a stimulus. The various types of human emotions and their expression appear to have evolved to motivate organisms in response to specific stimuli, whether focused on avoidance or approach behavior. 

Much research has been done on the various emotions that affect how humans react to their environments or other individuals and how these reactions contribute to our understanding of human nature. In essence, they are biological signals that convey information about our status and can be viewed as adaptive responses in some way.


  • Braniecka, A., Trzebińska, E., Dowgiert, A., & Wytykowska, A. (2014). Mixed emotions and coping: The benefits of Secondary Emotions. PLoS ONE, 9(8).

Hi, I am Happy. I'm a professional writer and psychology enthusiast. I love to read and write about human behaviors, the mind, mental health-related topics, and more.