Disgust is the opposite of pleasure. It is the proper response to annoyance or pain or any type of internal or external threat. As I mentioned on the page explaining the Balance Wheel, fear and anxiety are innate responses whereas disgust is an effective, conscious response that confronts the stimulus.

Disgust with an Internal Stimulus

For example, let’s look at a simple stimulus: pain. In this case, consider a pain in your back that has no apparent cause. The innate response is, of course, anxiety. “What is wrong with me? What should I do?” Of course, the first thing most people do is to lie down and rest. If you are like me, however, lying down can allow the back pain to increase which increases the anxiety which causes muscle tension which increases the painful region of the back.

The innate response to pain (anxiety) is often insufficient to deal with the stimulus. That is why the Balance Wheel suggests Disgust as the general category of emotion for grouping innate responses such as anxiety. When Disgust becomes the response to physical pain, you take more effective action. You may head to the medicine chest and take a pill for the pain. If that doesn’t work you consult with a physician who prescribes stronger medication, surgery, or an exercise regimen to strengthen and loosen the back muscles.

The conscious response of Disgust leads to exploring solutions; the innate response of anxiety does little toward solving the problem.

Disgust with an External Stimulus

Now let’s consider an external stimulus: some kind of threat. The innate response to an external threat is fear. Again, the innate response is often insufficient to deal with a threat.

To illustrate my point, I will tell a true story that happened many years ago to a close friend of mine in Kansas City. She was getting into her car after work when a man approached and tried to keep her from closing the door. He was a large man, and my friend is a small woman and was unarmed. As he tried to pull open the door of her car, she tugged back trying to shut the door and lock it. This innate response of fear was quite useless since the man was bound to overpower the woman. Suddenly, my friend remembered that another woman had exited the building just after her. My friend pushed open her door and stood up. Then she turned to the other woman and said, “Ma’am, this man is trying to get in my car.” The man turned and fled in fear because my friend dropped her own fear response and switched to Disgust. She was able to take positive action and protect herself.

Disgust applied to Many Common Stimuli

Back pain and personal assault are less common than those little annoyances that we face a dozen times each day. Below is a table that lists likely annoyances, the innate response, a recommended conscious response and possible actions or “coping skills” for each stimulus.

Stimulus Innate Response Proactive Response Possible Action
“coping skill”
Performance review Anxiety Disgust Relax, prepare
Annoying co-worker Anxiety Disgust Relax, control the situation. Re-direct the annoying behavior toward a productive task.
Child is disprespectful. Anxiety, fear, rejection Disgust Control the situation. Explore various discipline techniques.
Never respond with anxiety or fear.

Of course, the possible actions that I have listed in the far right column seem simplistic. This exercise is not about which is the proper coping skill. This page—and this entire site—are about how to feel. Once you have learned how to feel about a stimulus in the proper way, you can respond to any stimulus in your own way that most benefits you.

Beware of Crossing Responses

The stimulus of an annoying co-worker may not provoke anxiety in you at all. It may provoke Contempt (Love’s opposite). Contempt is also an acceptable response as long as it leads you to take action that benefits you. However, if Contempt leads you to mistreat your co-worker, then you have mistreated yourself as well. Perhaps Disgust or Grief might be better responses. Why Grief? Because that is where pity resides. Pity can stimulate compassion which is more related to Love. I know people who could respond to an annoying co-worker with the positive response of Compassion.

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