Processing Disgust Part 1: How It Relates to Our Sense of Wellbeing

Processing Disgust

Processing Disgust Part 1: How It Relates to Our Sense of Wellbeing

What is disgust, and why do we feel it?  Disgust is one of the six basic human emotions, along with happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and surprise. Disgust is a very complex emotion, with a wide range of functions.  Disgust is an emotion that can be difficult to understand. It’s a feeling that is both physically and emotionally uncomfortable, and it often manifests in strong reactions.

It’s Evolutionary

It exists as a result of our evolutionary history and our defensive need to protect ourselves from dangerous circumstances. It can serve as a warning signal, alerting us to potential threats.   Disgust can be thought of as a feeling that we experience when we encounter something that is offensive to our senses. This could be an object, a smell, a sound, or even a particular action. Disgust is a gut reaction that helps us to maintain our personal safety from disease and contamination.

It is Relates to our Sense of Wellbeing

We also become keenly aware of behaviors that infringe on our core values through the felt sense of disgust.  It is intimately bound up with our sense of self and our place in the world. We often experience disgust when something doesn’t fit with our view of the world.  And yet, disgust is also a feeling that we share with others.

Disgust can play an important role in our social lives, helping us to build relationships and maintain them. It is activated in response to a wide range of stimuli, from the sight or smell of rotting food to moral transgressions. We become keenly aware of behaviors that infringe on our core values through the felt sense of disgust.

What Leads to Disgust

In the DBT Skills Training Manual, Emotion Regulation Handout 6 provides an overview of prompting events that lead to a feeling of disgust, thoughts that lead to feelings of disgust, biological changes that occur when disgust is felt internally, behaviors associated with disgust and consequences to having felt the emotion.  These insights are particularly useful to review as one explores more deeply how this emotion functions in our own lives.

The Physiological Aspect

It can be helpful to review some of the physiological changes first in order to begin noticing when this emotion might arise in oneself.  These changes might include feelings of nausea, distaste or aversion to certain foods/drinks, an urge to get rid of something, an urge to cleanse oneself, a feeling of being dirty, and/or feeling faint.  When one experiences these symptoms, it can be important to identify for oneself “I am noticing that I am feeling disgusted in some way.”

The Behavioral Aspect

Behaviors associated with disgust might include pushing or kicking, avoidance or a desire to run away from something, washing, scrubbing or repeatedly cleansing a certain area, frowning, clenching of hands, wrinkling of nose in response to a smell, pursing of lips, cursing, sarcasm, vomiting and closing one’s eyes or looking away.

How we Process Disgust

It can be difficult to explain at times why something disgusts us or why someone’s actions are disgusting to us.  Often when we witness an infringement on our value system via someone’s words or actions, this can generate thoughts stemming from disgust that may judge or evaluate someone’s character in a negative way.  We may even divert thoughts of disgust inwardly, assessing our own body parts, feelings or thoughts as repulsive or inappropriate.

In our next blog post we will discuss further the topic of disgust and its connection to complex trauma and PTSD.

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