August 18, 2018

What are emotions?

Your emotions are your most important signalling system. Emotions were there long before thought and language, both in humans as a species and in you as an individual. You were born into this world with the capacity to be happy, sad, scared, shameful and angry.

Your emotions are important because they alert you to things that are important to you. They inform you about how you are doing with yourself, with those around you and most importantly – they inform you about what you need. This is because all emotions are related to your needs. This means that an emotion is your brain and your body’s reaction to the fact that something important has happened and your emotions tell you that you need to attend to what has happened since one or more of your needs are affected.

When your emotional system believes something important has happened, they come to your mind as alarms. These alarms usually contain a bodily experience, an urge to do something and an experience of a meaning. Examples of bodily sensations are: a knot in your stumoch, uneasyness, pressure in your chest, feeling warm, energized or strong. Your urge to do something might be to approach other people, or pull yourself away. Your experience of meaning might be: “This is dangerous!”

For example if you lose someone you are very fond of, then you can become sad and feel grief. You may feel heavy in your body and get a lump in your stomach or throat. You may want to cry. You know how much this person meant to you, and that you could have needed to have that person with you, and the feeling of sadness tells you that you can no longer get that need covered. The sadness can make you approach other people to get comfort, care and support.

All of our emotions are connected to needs in this way. Fear needs safety, shame shame needs acceptance and confirmation, anger needs boundaries, and sadness needs comfort. Therefore, the next time you find yourself feeling a feeling, you could ask yourself: What does this emotion tell me that I need?

If you want to learn more about this we can recommend the film below – Alfred & Shadow.