Emotions, hello strangers!
Emotions are frequently considered as negative, mysterious and unknown elements that distract us from our duties. How many times have you heard someone complaining about being “too emotional”? Very often avoidance or control are the direct consequences.
Have you ever asked yourself: what are emotions? And above all, are they useful?
Emotions are internal states implying a cognitive, a behavioural and a physical component.
Let’s use the primary emotion of fear as an example to better understand it:
- The cognitive component is about the thoughts accompanying the specific emotion. For example, if we experience fear, its cognitive content will be the recognition that there is a danger threatening us.
- The behavioural component is the reaction that we will adopt as a consequence. Speaking about fear, the behavioural reaction is what is so called “fight-or-flight” response: when exposed to a potential danger, we are naturally prone to fight against it (if, cognitively speaking, we evaluate that we could have good chances of defeating it) or to run away. Freezing reactions can be adopted too: the panic blocks us from doing anything.
- The physical component implies all those changes in our body functions that prepare us to the “fight-or-flight” response. We will experience a higher heart rate, an intense sweating, a contraction of the main muscles, stomachache (because digestion will be interrupted to save energy), all our attention will be focused on the danger.
Why emotions are so important?
Every emotion deeply resonates in our body, but very often we are not used to read the signals and we do not listen to what our body is telling us.
Frequently the environment where we grew up sent us the message that emotions are dangerous, they steal our self-control, so we have to focus on rationality and don’t consider them!
For sure not every emotion is pleasant.
Nonetheless they are so important, as they are like a compass indicating our direction in the world and telling us how well we are dealing in achieving our intimate goals.
Try to think about it: joy and happiness indicate that we are on the right path in achieving an important goal; fear, as written above, indicates that something or someone is threatening a goal here and now; anxiety indicates that a potential threat could possibly endanger a goal in the future, while sadness indicates that we have lost a goal or an object that was important to us.
As written above, very often we are not trained to recognise them. But not paying attention to our emotions can be extremely misleading, as it can move us away from our needs and desires.
In some extreme cases, as in somatic symptoms disorders, it can be so difficult to identify them that they are just experienced as symptoms or pain in the body. Sometimes we can just feel that our body hurts too much, we can address to several doctors and undertake many specialistic exams, even without finding a cause of it. It can happen that our psychic pain is felt only in the body, not aware in our mind and we don’t see any possible mental cause for this.
It is never too late to start to read the signals. The road sometimes can be slippery, but the first step to start with is what we call “Emotions’ Psycho-Education”.
Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapy can help you to get you closer to your emotions, to better identify them and to know how they manifest in your body.
Being in contact with your emotions can give you precious information to improve your personal world.
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About Ilaria Tedeschi
Ilaria Tedeschi is a cognitive behavioural psychotherapist in Marylebone, London, with several years' experience working with depressive, anxiety, sleep and relational problems.