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Emotion "Facts"

Updated: Nov 9, 2022

This article acts as a companion piece to the article "Emotion Myths". I analyze statements that are sometimes held by people and consequently may play a role in affecting them in upsetting or dysfunctional ways.



“All emotions whether positive/comfortable or negative/uncomfortable are temporary.”


Another way of putting this is that change is always happening, or in other words, nothing is actually static, including emotions. Yes, sometimes emotions can seem to outstay their welcome: if we’re feeling very anxious or feeling low it may feel as though you’re in that state for an eternity. But if you are able to pay more attention to how you’re feeling when you’re in a particular state, you may notice small fluctuations in how you’re feeling. For example, if you’re feeling anxious for a prolonged period of time, you may notice that the anxiety may fluctuate—it has its peaks and troughs that flow up and down like a wave. This is also true for feelings of depression: you may notice that you don’t tend to feel really low all of the time every time; sometimes you may feel moderately or mildly low, and sometimes you may feel even happy before hitting another low point. We could say the same about people who tend to be generally happy: their happy states are dynamic and fluctuate between different extremes of happiness; and importantly, they also feel unhappy at times.



“Emotions help us to recognise when something is good or bad.”


Emotions have survival value mainly because they have been generally effective at communicating to us how to respond to external (environmental) and internal (subjective) events or situations. They can be thought of as guides, but sometimes these guides can be unhelpfully responsive or unpleasant. To use an analogy, consider someone with allergies like asthma or hay fever. When a specific type of foreign entity like dust or pollen interacts with this person, their body perceives these entities as hazardous or threatening to their health, even if the entities are harmless. In a sense, the “intention” of these allergic responses is positive: they want to prevent illness and death, but the allergic response’s "methods" (e.g., sneezing, watery or itchy eyes, wheezing, etc.) may seem to be quite extreme and unpleasant. For many with emotions that are overwhelming, for example, you mind and body are "intending" to keep you safe and restoure some balance, but the way in which they do this might feel like anxiety, panic, feeling low, avoiding or worrying about things, and so on. Therapy can help you to gradually make sense of your emotional responses and then learn new or alternative ways of responding back to those responses, so that in time you are more able to manage.



“Holding back on our emotions can be just as unhealthy as letting them spill out everywhere. We need to find the appropriate time to cry and share our fears with (trusted) others.”


Sometimes our emotions can be overwhelming: fluctuating like huge tidal waves that are very difficult to contain or regulate. Holding back our emotions can lead to a build-up that increases over time until the emotions may escape and cause the very problems you tried so hard to conceal or avoid. Sometimes sharing your emotions very intensely or frequently may also backfire in a similar fashion, for example, sharing your emotions with people who are not emotionally available for you or who may take advantage of you; or when a social setting does not provide the safe or effective conditions you need. I want to emphasise that it is understandable to experience these kinds of scenarios and it doesn't mean there's something wrong or bad about you. Therapy is one way in which you can both learn to release or externalise, and to regulate how you feel.




“Emotions keep us attached to others and help us to build relationships with people.”


One effective way that emotions have endured for so long in an evolutionary sense is that they are central to creating and maintaining attachments to others. We tend to fair pretty well in groups rather than in isolation. When we feel happy or sad our emotions can communicate this to others via our behaviours and body language, which then can create opportunities for others to respond or tend to us. Of course, this is not always the case, and some individuals may take advantage of or neglect our emotional needs and vulnerabilities. We may then learn that our needs aren’t so important and in order maintain any sort of attachment with people, we need to compromise or sacrifice our authentic self. This may look like making sure we are available for others but not asking or expecting others to be available for us. Or it may look like becoming very emotionally independent or conservative with difficulties opening up to others. Therapy can help you to understand the needs that weren't adequately met in relationships so that you can learn to develop a new relationship with yourself and others.




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