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Emotions as Messengers

What are emotions?

Emotions are part of the human experience. In fact, emotion is defined as “a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others.” They have been around as long as we have because they’re important for our survival. For instance, they promote connection with others, a basic human need in order to survive and even lengthen our lifespans. They protect us from harm by helping us leave an environment that scares us. We cry or laugh in order to physically release tension and connect with others through a shared experience. By listening to them and responding to their needs, we can even decrease our stress, boost our immune systems and therefore improve our physical health in many ways [1].

How can they help us?

Though views around mental health are continuing to change, unfortunately, there is still a societal stigma around emotions. They are often viewed as “weak,” “inconvenient” or “impractical.” But arguably, it is exactly these views that can be harmful to ourselves or others, causing disconnection and despair. When we deny our own experience we deny the opportunity to grow and connect with ourselves and others. Ways to combat this stigma is to further our understanding of our own emotions. And to do that, we can start by naming them.

What are they trying to tell us?

Each emotion serves its own purpose, but overall they are trying to tell us that we need something. The following is a list of some emotions and the needs they could be communicating:

  • Confused: I need more information
  • Anxious/scared: I need safety, support, or more information
  • Sad: I need support or space, I miss or long for someone or something
  • Mad: I need to vent, express myself, or space
  • Helpless: I need to know I matter. I need to know how I can or already do contribute in some way
  • Hopeless: I need to know there is a purpose for me out there
  • Lonely: I need community and/or connection
  • Frustrated or irritated: I need help or clarity on how to do something. I need to know that I can do this task. 
  • Panic: I need to leave or I need space or I need reassurance

This is of course a limited list of emotions as well as what they could be indicating. A feelings wheel can be very helpful with building the language around our emotions. You also may have noticed emotions might need opposite things like connection or space from others. That is where you come in regarding exploring the sensations your emotions bring and what you might need at that moment.

What are they telling you?

This is meant to be a guide with examples of which emotions tell us what, but you’re invited to explore what it is your emotions are telling you. We all encounter emotions, but the ways in which we experience them and the needs that follow are unique to each of us. And they may change depending on the circumstances we are in or whether or not we had a snack in the last 4 hours! The hope is to continue to get to know our emotions all the time.

By receiving our feelings in an open, curious way, we can build a relationship where we trust and rely on what they’re communicating to us. This may not be easy, but if you’ve read this far, you’re already well on your way. Even having an outside perspective, such as a therapist, while getting to know yourself and what you need can be extremely valuable.

If we can access and support our own emotions, what could this mean about how we show up for and lean on others? It starts with ourselves: the gift of acceptance of a very normal, natural, and human experience of emotions.

References

  1. Cured: Strengthen Your Immune System and Heal Your Life: Rediger M.D., Jeffrey: 9781250193193: Amazon.com: Books. (2022). Retrieved August 25, 2022, from Amazon.com website: https://www.amazon.com/Cured-Strengthen-Your-Immune-System/dp/1250193192