Emotions, what thoughts and feelings come to mind when you think about this word? Is it that you are tired of being driven by your own emotions, or is it that you cannot remember the last time you even experienced one? A lot of people classify emotions as being either good or bad, positive or negative. While some people are scared of experiencing any emotions, others feel that they are on an emotional rollercoaster.
So what is the point of having emotions? Believe it or not, all of the emotions that we feel are there for a reason. Emotions motivate us into action, they communicate with others and most importantly they are communicating with us that something is occurring. Without experiencing our emotions we would be lost and most probably would not have survived as a species.
Let’s examine some of the emotions and find out their purpose. Anger can either be a primary or secondary emotion, meaning that feeling anger can help us protect ourselves or our loved ones from someone that is trying to hurt us. As a secondary emotion, anger serves to protect us against feelings of sadness, rejection or embarrassment etc. Fear and anxiety tell us that there is danger and without it our species would not have survived. I had a professor once who told us that our ancestors must have been extremely anxious or else we would not be here sitting in a classroom.
Then there are the social emotions that help us to be a part of a group. We have pride that helps us to raise our social standing within the group, and shame that is going to decrease our social standing and let us know that we have done something wrong. Love so that we can connect with others, sadness when someone in our life dies, moves away or they are no longer in our lives. Jealousy tells us someone is trying to take something from us that belongs to us and happiness lets us know that we are around people in a place that makes us feel safe and secure.
So why do we have so many struggles with emotions as we grow up? Well, let us take a look back at childhood. From birth, our emotions are communicating to us about our environment, with some infants and children feeling safe and secure, while others may feel anxious about their environment. Then there is the problem of how the adults in our environment interpret their own emotions which is going to have an effect on what we think about our emotions. Take for example if you are born a male. I’m sure most of you have heard “boys do not cry” or “you need to be tough there is no crying allowed in this house”. Even women can experience being told "no crying in this house". So what happens is that we grow up not being able to express or be in touch with our own emotions.
Then there are many of us who may have experienced being told that we are “too sensitive” because we are overreactive to everything that is occurring in our environment. When we are told this, having emotions can make us feel shameful, so we try and hide how we are feeling. The problem with this situation is that as we grow up we then try to suppress our own emotions, not listening to our needs and instead only focusing on the needs of others.
Many people have never had their emotions validated so again we learned to suppress them. The problem with not having our emotions validated is that as children we also do not get to learn what our emotions are. Think about if you are feeling disappointed because you did not make it on a team at school and you feel upset, angry and frustrated, it would be very difficult for a child to understand that they were actually feeling disappointed. Then we grow up as adults and have no clue what we are feeling and wonder why we are also feeling so angry.
All of the above examples will result in us just pushing our emotions down or trying to numb any “bad or negative” emotions that may arise. The trouble is that when we do this, we are unable to experience any “good or positive” emotions such as happiness, excitement or surprise Remember, experiencing our emotions is an essential part of life.