As a licensed psychologist, I often work with clients who are struggling with the intensity or frequency of certain mood states. However, often patients identify a treatment goal of eliminating all anxiety or other troubling mood state from their life. Although positive emotions are certainly worth cultivating, problems arise when a person strives to avoid experiencing any negative emotion or panics when the experienced mood state is not consistently content. After all, there is a reason we have a variety of emotions and this variety is part of the human experience. Each experienced emotion assists us as humans in thriving and surviving in our environment.
There appears to be a common belief that negative emotions are bad and need to be eliminated as quickly as possible. When in fact, it is our interpretation of that emotion, not the emotion itself, which is the problem. I figured it was time to set the record straight about emotions!
Emotions are experienced for the following reasons:
- Emotions provide us with valuable information, such as informing us when something is happening in our environment that requires our attention, and assists us in making effective decisions. Negative emotions, such as sadness or anger, can help alert us that something needs closer attention in our lives or a change may be necessary.
- Emotions help us function in harmony as a society. For example, the emotion of guilt is often a powerful signal that we are behaving in ways that conflict with our values. Directing behavior to avoid the feeling of guilt is often associated with pro social behavior and considering our impact on others.
- Emotions communicate to and influence others in our lives. Emotions quickly inform others how we are doing and also influence how others respond and interact with us. This assists us in getting our needs met.
- Emotions motivate and prepare us to take behavioral action. Emotions help us process information quickly and react in situations in which we need to respond. Therefore, emotions are adaptive and required for our general survival. Emotions can also organize our behavior and help us to overcome obstacles or stressors in our lives.
Next time you experience an emotion that feels uncomfortable, practice mindfully observing the emotion without judgment, without escaping it, and ask yourself how this emotion may be trying to alert you to something, communicate with you, or motivate your behavior.