New Girl and Primary Emotions
On the Fox sitcom, New Girl (now in its third season), three guys (Nick, Schmidt, and Winston) get a new roommate, Jess, played by Zooey Deschanel, and the comedic antics ensue.
In an episode titled “Menzies,” after recently being laid off, Jess finds herself particularly emotional, which she attributes to being on her period. One example of her moodiness arises during a job interview for a teaching position, in which she bursts into tears when shown a picture of an adorably small puppy in a cup. Meanwhile, Winston believes that he is also having a period, which he self-diagnoses as Sympathy PMS, and subsequently stays at home for a few days.
Towards the end of the episode, it becomes clearer what is actually bothering Jess and Winston:
Nick: I’ve been watching you doubt yourself for months.
Jess: I’m not doubting myself!
Nick: You’re doubting yourself Jess!
Jess: It’s PMS!
Nick: It’s not PMS! You got knocked down. It’s time to get back up. And get up long enough for one of these bozos to hire you. I believe in you.
Winston: (laying in bed) I don’t really have PMS.
Nick: I KNOW! You’re a man!
Winston: (weeps) I miss Shelby!
Nick: This is all about your break up?
Albeit exaggerated for comedic effect, this episode highlights the importance of paying attention to one’s own primary emotions. Primary emotions are the instinctive, immediate feelings that we experience in reaction to a situation. In contrast, secondary emotions are the emotional responses that we have following, or in reaction to, our primary emotions. For instance, a person might express anger or hostility in response to his or her primary feeling of sadness. Often the interplay between primary and secondary emotion is out of our awareness, as it can be quite automatic and/or instinctual.
In the aforementioned episode, both Jess and Winston appear to be struggling with an underlying emotional issue they were either denying or not aware of, which (at least humorously for Winston) is attributed to PMS symptoms. In Jess’ case, she was struggling with doubt and vulnerability stemming from losing her job. Meanwhile, Winston’s “symptoms,” stemmed from the loss of his romantic relationship. Had they not eventually identified their underlying emotional responses, Jess and Winston would have potentially continued to focus solely on their periods while leaving their actual issues unaddressed.
While we may not have all experienced Sympathy PMS like Winston, we’ve all probably witnessed or participated in some version of the same oversight he and Jess make. Regardless of our emotional awareness, at times we might prefer to leave certain emotional issues unacknowledged. Sometimes it is easier to say we’re annoyed or mad than say we’re hurt or embarrassed. But despite telling someone off or breaking something, to our chagrin we might subsequently find that we don’t actually feel any sense of resolution, and what’s more is that we’ve created a new set of issues by indulging our secondary anger.
So the next time you notice yourself in a heated argument over a minor issue or if you’re a man experiencing menstrual cramps, take a moment to consider if there is a deeper emotional reaction, or perhaps in the latter case see a doctor.
photo credit: allthatcubeness.wordpress.com
Kong Psy.D., B. (2013). New Girl and Primary Emotions. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 31, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/psychology-culture/2013/10/new-girl-and-primary-emotions/