Updated: Feb 3
“Why are you crying? Stop crying.” Have you heard that before in your life? We live in a culture that does not understand and tries to suppress emotion.
What Are Emotions?
Emotions are probably one of the most misunderstood experiences of the human condition. Our culture and society teaches us to differentiate between “good”and "bad" emotions, so it has become our norm. If I were to ask you, “what are the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ emotions,” you can likely name a few of each. Contrary to what we are taught, there are no “good” or “bad” emotions.
Emotions are important messengers that inform and give meaning to our lived experiences. Can you imagine a world without emotions? We would basically be robots. Dr. Paul Ekman, renowned emotions researcher, identified humans as having the following universal emotions: anger, contempt, disgust, enjoyment, fear, sadness, and surprise (Paul Ekman Group, n.d.).
Why Do We Experience Emotions?
According to Dr. Ekman, emotions function as a method of response to our environment, real or imagined, within our mind (Paul Ekman Group, n.d.). Everyone’s emotional response differs, e.g., what makes one person sad might not make another person sad. Humans cannot choose their feelings but can manage their responses/reactions to emotions.
Emotions are biological and evolutionary wired within our bodies. Our emotions allow us to respond at times without thinking, which can be very helpful in dangerous situations. For example, back in the day, when we encounter a tiger, if we think about whether we are in danger or scared, we would already be dead. Due to our emotions, we can react more quickly and get to safety faster. As you can see in this example, emotions motivate us into action. It can also help communicate our needs to others.
How To Cope With Emotions
The one thing to take away here is DO NOT SUPPRESS or DENY your emotions. They always come out no matter how hard you choose to avoid them. It is like a volcano or pressure cooker waiting to explode if we avoid them.
Emotions do not disappear if you avoid them. When we don’t deal with emotions in healthy ways, we can become dysregulated and respond in unpredictable ways. For example, we can explode in anger at an unsuspecting stranger on the street or a loved one. When we deal with emotion in unhealthy ways like substance use or hurting others, we end up hurting ourselves.
The following are suggestions on how to begin dealing/managing your emotions if you are new to managing them:
Awareness is key, so you do not get to the point of dysregulation or are just reacting to everything.
Once you are aware, engage in some self-soothing skills or distraction skills.
It can be deep breathing, going for a walk, or playing a game on your phone to decrease your distress.
If you are aware and your distress has decreased, see if you can process what emotions you are feeling and/or what triggered you.
Figure out what emotion you are feeling. Our bodies can help clue us in. Where in your body do you feel it? Is it tense? Are you overheated?
Think about what happened before you felt those emotions. Did you receive a text or see something on the news? Is it something else?
Does it make sense to you why you felt that way as a response to that event/trigger?
If you are struggling with this exercise, we recommend journaling about what happened or talking with a supportive friend to notice a pattern in your emotions and/or behaviors.
If you require more help around emotions, we highly recommend contacting a mental health professional. This blog is no substitution for mental health services.
Once you are able to process and move through your emotions in healthier ways, you won’t feel as dysregulated all the time.
Emotions are tricky. Depending on how we grew up, emotions can be scary, especially if we were exposed to trauma growing up and never learned how to deal with emotions. Even happiness can be scary since it may feel fleeting or foreign.
Emotions are difficult to deal with, so many choose to avoid them since it is easier to do in the moment. Those emotions do not disappear. We cannot selectively numb one emotion. When we numb our emotions, we numb all emotions. Emotions allow us to connect with others and to feel alive, which are part of the human experience. By learning how to deal with our emotions, we are also learning how to improve our mental health.
If you are struggling with your emotions and want therapeutic services with us, feel free to reach out to us through our site.
Stay tuned. The next topic is "To Ice Cream or Not?"
Paul Ekman Group. (n.d.). Universal emotions: What are emotions? https://www.paulekman.com/universal-emotions/
Written by Elena Duong, Psy.D.
Edited by Susanna La, Ph.D.