As human beings, we’re all hard-wired to feel things and react on an emotional level to the things going on around us. From the moment we’re born, we cry when we’re sad or hungry or in need; we feel angry towards the people who hurt us; we’re afraid of things that might be dangerous; and we feel happy when we’re given love, kindness, and affection. These aren’t things we ever really had to learn, because emotions come so naturally to us and its only human nature for us to express them.
But somewhere along the way, it all became so complicated. We started getting confused about what we were feeling and why we were feeling it. And some emotions we didn’t quite know how to deal with, so we end up repressing, denying, or hiding our true feelings. But understanding our emotions not only helps us better understand ourselves but also in building a deeper, more meaningful life.
With that said, here are 7 of the most important things you need to know about your emotions:
1. You are not your emotions.
First and foremost, you need to remember that you don’t have to be defined by the things you feel. Emotions are nothing but electrochemical signals flowing from your brain to your body as a reaction to your day-to-day experiences. They are simply there to regulate your thoughts and behaviours based on these experiences, and nothing more (Elsworth, 1994).
They don’t inform your character or impact who you are unless you want them to. And to think otherwise robs you of your identity as a person outside of your emotions. So allow yourself the freedom to get angry without thinking it makes you an “angry person”, or feel happy without pressuring yourself to act like a “happy person” all the time. Which brings us to our next point!
2. Emotions come and go.
One of the main reasons why we say there’s so much more to a person than just their emotions is because our emotions frequently come and go. And something as fundamental to us as our identity shouldn’t be defined by something as fickle and ever-changing as how we feel. Even the most intense emotions and physical reactions (like crying, shaking, and screaming) peak within a matter of minutes if we simply let it pass (Whitbourne, 2012).
3. Emotions sometimes don’t need a specific reason.
Have you ever felt a certain way but didn’t know why? Or grappled with an emotion that hit you out of seemingly nowhere? While it can be confusing and difficult to make sense of our emotions when we don’t know the reason behind them, sometimes we just need to let ourselves feel whatever it is we’re feeling and not get so caught up in figuring out why. Be honest with yourself about how you feel – whether it’s sad, upset, happy, or scared – and accept it without judgment, knowing that all feelings are valid.
4. Emotions don’t need a reaction.
Whether it’s anger, jealousy, sadness, or discontentment, there’s nothing wrong with feeling a certain way. You don’t have to feel guilty or ashamed about your emotions, as long as you also understand that not every emotion deserves to be acted on. Because when we lose control and let our emotions get the better of us, we often find ourselves saying hurtful things or doing something we’ll later come to regret. So remember that just because you feel something doesn’t mean you have to do anything about it. Take a moment to stop and think about what the best thing to do would be and don’t let your emotions cloud your judgment.
5. There are no negative emotions.
While most of us have come to believe that feelings can be either good or bad, psychologists actually argue that all feelings are neutral. That is to say, there’s no such thing as positive or negative emotions because emotions aren’t inherently…anything. They’re only what we make of them. And though it can sometimes feel painful or overwhelming to feel things so strongly and deeply, allowing ourselves to experience our true emotions can teach us a great deal about ourselves and who we really are, because…
6. All emotions serve a purpose.
As human as we are, we all experience a wide spectrum of different, multi-faceted emotions. These feelings are a natural part of life and they serve to let us know how we’re affected by what goes on both within our lives and within ourselves. Every emotion serves a purpose, pointing us in the right direction and helping us make sense of what we’re going through. Envy and discontentment, for example, show us that there’s a need we’re not satisfying for ourselves, that we feel is missing from our lives. Happiness teaches us to seek out the people and places that make us feel loved, while sadness is a way for us to process the loss of something that was once important to us. You can read more about it in our other article, 10 Basic Emotions and What They’re Trying to Tell You.
7. Emotions are contagious.
Last but certainly not least, something you need to know about your emotions is that they can be very contagious. Several scientific studies, in fact, have found that when people are in a group, they subconsciously mimic the emotions of those around them as an expression of our innate desire to belong (Wild, Erb & Bartels, 2001). With that in mind, it’s no wonder having toxic people in our lives who bring us down can be so emotionally draining for us, which is why it’s so important that we surround ourselves only with those who we enjoy spending time with and truly feel connected to.
So, did you learn something new about yourself and your emotions? If you’re interested in this topic and want to know more, here are a few other articles for you to check out: 12 Emotions You Might Feel But Can’t Explain, 7 Signs You’re Emotionally Repressed, 7 Signs You’re Emotionally Burnt Out, 8 Signs of Emotional Attraction, and 8 Signs You May Be Emotionally Triggered.
- Ellsworth, P.C. (1994) William James and emotion: Is a century of fame worth a century of misunderstanding? Psychological Review, 101, 222-229.
- Whitbourne, S. K. (2012). The Complete Guide to Understanding Your Emotions. Psychology Today, 25(11); 92-104.
- Wild, B., Erb, M., & Bartels, M. (2001). Are emotions contagious? Evoked emotions while viewing emotionally expressive faces: quality, quantity, time course and gender differences. Psychiatry research, 102(2), 109-124.