Why Do We Have Emotions?
By Vanessa Gonzalez
We all experience positive and negative emotions. Yet, we all want to be happy, and we find it so difficult to keep chasing the idea of true happiness. Yet, we still feel ‘negative’ emotions such as sadness, anxiety, anger, etc. However, we have all emotions for a specific reason, or they wouldn’t exist.
We don’t have emotions by accident. Many psychologists have theorized that humans have not evolved to be happy. Instead, emotions are for our survival. Therefore, we need to learn how our emotions work and what purpose they serve to learn how to respond to and regulate them.
So – what is the purpose of emotions? Our emotions help drive our behavior and the decisions we make. Much of what we do is motivated to change or keep a feeling. Here are some emotions and the purpose they serve
- Happiness – motivates you to connect to others and engage in things to remain to be safe
- Fear – avoid things to keep you safe
- Sadness – avoid and isolate to withdraw to keep safe
- Anger – Attack or go against others to keep safe
- Guilt – Repair wrongdoings to keep social connectedness towards others and be safe
- Shame – Hide away from others to keep safe
- Disgust – Withdraw to keep safe
- Compassion – moves toward others to continue to feel connected and safe
While we have many more emotions, these are some of the few that come to mind. What did all of these emotions have in common?
They help us approach and avoid things to keep us safe and increase survival.
What Happens When We Avoid Our Emotions?
Several studies have proven that suppressing your emotions can affect your body and mind and cause physical stress on the body. As a result, there is an increase in heart disease, diabetes, memory, anxiety, and depression. So, we need to find a way to regulate our emotions not to feel them too excessively or too little.
Therapeutic Approaches to Emotions
Many different forms of psychotherapy is used to regulate emotions. However, two of the most common ones are Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) – CBT teaches the client that the way of understanding your emotions is due to what we think and then act. So, the goal is to manage the emotions and the thoughts to change our behavior.
- Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) – ACT is a type of CBT therapy that is different regarding emotions. It states that problems occur when we try to control emotions, which causes us to behave in a way that is opposite to our values. In ACT, the therapist focuses on teaching individuals to live a valued life with meaning rather than specifically regulating how they feel. ACT suggests that you need to accept yourself and your emotions and choose to make decisions toward your values.
Ways to Cope with Emotions
- Acknowledge the emotion – know what the emotion is, how you are feeling, and try to understand why you are feeling that way
- Confront the problem – observe the situation objectively and try not to look at the situation personally. Take an opportunity to learn another perspective
- Radically accept- Accept that your emotions are valid, even if they are not congruent with the event.
- Do an activity to alleviate mood – drawing, reading, exercise, etc.
Reflect upon your feelings and learn to regulate them to control your actions. Unfortunately, we can’t control our emotions but can respond accordingly. If you are having difficulty regulating your emotions, a mental health professional will be able to help.