Understanding Emotions

Emotions are always present. Even when you feel bored, or neutral, you are feeling. Emotions can range from positive (such as love and happiness) to negative (such as shame, anger, and jealousy). Emotions are complex and you can often feel a mix of them at the same time. Emotions are also automatic. Sometimes it can feel like emotions are bad or unhelpful in distressing or stressful situations, but they serve a function – they can inform your behavior, help you to communicate to others, and help you to communicate to yourself.

How can knowing about emotions be helpful? When we can identify and name our emotions, we can take a step back to observe and describe them, which can help us change the behavior that comes after feeling the emotion. At the same time, it’s important to identify with why you’re feeling the emotion. While it’s not possible to directly change the emotion, it is possible to change how you respond to the emotion you’re feeling.

Pretend you took an exam and you didn’t score as well as you thought you would. You might feel a range of emotions, from sadness, to anger, to envy of other students who did well. Taking a moment to step back and identify the emotion may prevent your next action, which may not be helpful. If feeling sad, you might go eat that pint of ice cream in your freezer. Anger, you might have written your professor a rude email, or envy – maybe you would have lashed out at a friend who scored better than you. The next step, identifying with the emotion, whether it’s sadness, anger, or envy, can inform you that you really cared about doing well on that exam or maybe that you value your education and performance.

Regardless of the situation, when we understand emotions, we understand ourselves better and we can choose better, more positive actions afterwards. You can use your emotions, even the negative ones, to learn about yourself and what you value!

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