The Value Of Listening To ALL Of Your Emotions

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Why It’s Worth Making Time To Understand Your Emotions

BY NATALIE KATALINIC

Emotions and our emotional experiences can sometimes carry an unfortunate stigma. In Western society, there’s an unwritten expectation that we shouldn’t feel so-called ‘negative’ emotions (e.g., anger, sadness): we should focus on being happy instead. It’s a hard expectation to live up to. We experience all of our options for good reasons – they can’t simply be ‘turned off’ – and the more you judge your emotional experiences, the worse you’ll feel, and the harder your emotions will be to control.

Our emotions have existed since the beginning of time and have three important evolutionary uses:

Function #1: Emotions Provide Us With Information

If you’re not scared of heights but you feel anxious standing on a particular cliff, for example, your brain is helping you to assess the riskiness of the situation you’re currently in, even before you’re consciously aware of the danger. In this way, anxiety is actually helpful: it can help you to make necessary decisions about safety to keep yourself and others you care about out of harms way.

All of your emotions give you information. Anxiety tells you that you feel under threat, anger tells you there’s been an injustice, sadness tells you you’ve lost something you care about, happiness tells you you’ve gained something valuable, and guilt tells you you’ve done something that violates your value system.

Function #2: Emotions Motivate Action

The emotion you feel in any given situation helps you to organise your response to that situation. Let’s say you see someone trying to steal your bag from across the room. Anger activates your ‘fight’ response, mobilising you to confront the assailant and retrieve/protect your bag.

Function #3: Emotions Allow Us To Communicate

If you’re sad because your pet has passed away and you look downcast and tearful, the people around you will offer you comfort and/or give you space so you don’t feel overwhelmed. In this case, your emotions help you to get what you need from the people around you.

When you start to see your emotions as potentially valuable snippets of information, you can move to observing these mindfully with genuine curiosity. This process of acceptance results in a stronger sense of control over what you feel and subsequently what you do – a sense which is often absent when we feel ‘emotional’ and assume that there is something wrong with that. Try not to dismiss your emotions. Take the time to listen to what they have to tell you.

Natalie is a warm and compassionate registered psychologist with a Masters of Clinical Psychology degree who is experienced in various evidence-based therapeutic modalities, including Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). She specialises in working with adults and teens experiencing major depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, borderline personality disorder, grief and loss, identity concerns, relationship difficulties, and stressful life events in general.


 

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