The Power of Emotions

“Rather than being your thoughts and emotions, be the awareness behind them.” - Eckhart Tolle,
Mindfulness Teacher & Author

Teen Healthy Mind – Exploring Emotions – What are Emotions?

What Are Emotions?

Written by Violaine Guéritault, Ph.D.

What is the deal with those emotions of ours that seem to have so much power over us? What is your personal connection to them? Truth be told, whether we like them or not, our emotions are an integral part of us being human, and therefore, they are here to stay. You, just like the rest of us, are born with the innate capacity to experience them, and that’s why they are such an intimate part of who you are. Each and every one of us experiences emotions on a daily basis. They are as important as the air we breathe, and there is an excellent reason for that. Let’s consider what those reasons might be.

Emotions are no small detail in the life of a human being. In fact, Charles Darwin identified human emotions as playing a key role in our capacity to adapt to our environment, which in turn, increases our chances to survive as a species. Basically, what Darwin is telling us is that our emotions are not just some useless and bothersome part of our human condition we have to put up with, but that they are an absolute necessity to our human evolution.

How does that relate to you? Well, let’s take a look at the role your emotions play in your life and what makes them so important.

The Purpose of Emotions

According to psychologist Kendra Cherry, your emotions have five main purposes that you may not always be aware of:

#1 They have the power to motivate you to take action.

Do you remember the last time you had to take a really important test or a mid-term exam you knew was going to impact your final grade for a course? Do you remember how nerve-wracking an experience that was? Were any of the emotions you experienced in response to that situation pleasant in any way? Most likely not. And yet, probably without you even being aware of it, your emotions became a driving force that gave you the motivation to take action and do something positive to improve your chances of getting a good grade. And if you give it a little bit of thought, you can surely find plenty of instances when your emotions motivated you to take action in order to improve your life one way or another. Which, in and of itself, is playing in favor of your emotions.

#2 They help you survive, thrive, and avoid danger.

Have you ever thought of your emotions playing that kind of role? Charles Darwin had a very good point when he said that our emotions serve an adaptive role in our lives by motivating us to act quickly and take actions that will maximize our chances of survival and success.

Just think of it for a minute. When you are angry, you are likely to face up to the source of your irritation in order to restore calm and balance within yourself, aren’t you? In a similar fashion, when you experience fear you are more likely to avoid or flee a dangerous situation that could be a threat to your well-being and safety. And when you feel love, don’t you want to get closer and more intimate with the person or the people who make you feel that way because you know instinctively that they help you thrive? Aren’t these good illustrations of Darwin’s perspective on the usefulness of your emotions?

#3 They are a great help when it comes to making decisions.

If you can’t feel emotions, you can’t make decisions. It’s as simple as that. You may not realize it, but your emotions have a major influence on the decisions you make. From what you eat, to what you wear, the music you listen to, the friends you choose to be with, to which career to pursue or to something as important as finding a partner who will love you and who you will love in return. The reason behind everything you do in your life, in one way or the other, is related to your emotions. Even in situations where you believe your decisions are guided only by logic and rationality, your emotions play a key role. You think with the help of your brain, but often, you listen to your heart.

#4 They help other people understand you.

Have you ever thought of the fact that your emotions give other people some clues about you that help them understand how you are feeling? Sometimes your body language, your facial expressions, or your tone of voice are the cues that give others information about the particular emotions you are experiencing at that moment. Other times, you state more directly how you feel by telling them that you are happy, sad, angry, or scared. This emotional way you instinctively use to interact with others is important because it gives them information about you that helps them know how to relate to you in certain situations, and help you if need be.

#5 They help you understand others.

Just as your own emotions give valuable information to others, the emotions of people around you provide you with a great deal of social information that allows you to interpret and respond to their emotions. It helps you communicate appropriately and effectively in a wide range of situations with the people who matter to you. And this is essential when it comes to building deeper and more meaningful relationships with your friends, family, and the people you love.

The Power of Acceptance

You now know the importance your emotions play in many areas of your life. Is it still a little difficult for you to accept them? You still don’t like the way they make you feel? Do you even think sometimes that there might be something wrong with you? Well, be assured that you are not alone to feel that way. You’re in good company with the rest of us. There is one thing that you must remember, however, and that is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. The only problem here is that we all tend to forget that our emotions are an integral part of being human. They’re a part of you, they’re a part of all of us, and that’s why they’re not going anywhere.

As you know, some of your emotions feel positive when you feel happy, joyful, self-confident, or grateful. While other emotions feel more negative, like when you feel sad, angry, frustrated, or fearful. Sometimes they may leave you feeling confused because your emotions are like the weather, they have the power to make you feel good and bright like a sunny day, or sad and gloomy like a rainy and cold day. You have noticed for sure that they tend to come and go, and that they can change several times in the course of one day, making you feel like you are on a roller coaster.

Just like the ups and downs of the weather, the ups and downs of your emotions are, once again, completely normal. In fact, it may not feel that way to you, but if you were to be deprived of them entirely, you would feel completely lost, disconnected from everyone and everything, and you wouldn’t know how to navigate the world we live in. Everything would feel dull and meaningless to you because your emotions constantly give you information about what you are experiencing and help you know how to respond to what goes on within and around you.

Do you still have mixed feelings about your relationship with your emotions? Well, the good news is that there is a way for you to improve how you relate to them. Although your emotions have been with you since you were a child, you probably noticed that with time and practice, you’ve gotten better at knowing what you are feeling and why. This skill is called Emotional Awareness. We all naturally acquire some degree of Emotional Awareness as we grow up and get older!

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