Friday, March 28, 2014

What's the Deal with Emotions?

If I Google emotions chart I can choose from over 11 million results that will most likely contain more options for happy, sad, angry and scared than most people can wrap their minds around. It makes sense that deciphering the minute differences between fearful and afraid, or elated and overjoyed can be confusing. Keeping them all straight when we have so many options can feel overwhelming. Consequently, when in therapy you may be asked about your feelings so much that you would rather not having emotions at all!

Most often we embark on therapy not because of the emotions that fall under the happy category, but due to those that are associated with sad, scared, or angry. It makes sense when clients wish away their emotions altogether. If one feels melancholy the majority of time, not having emotions may seem like an ideal solution. Life may be easier without the complications that emotions can provide. We could move past struggles without anxiety, depression or having to develop coping mechanisms to numb out the emotions that feel too great to overcome.

Consider life without emotions though. Even in a depressed state many individuals are able to identify that something is not right, that they do not feel well. As I’m writing this I’m trying to imagine what my day would be like without even the most mild emotions. I wouldn’t have felt reluctant for more sleep this morning. I would not have felt content sipping my morning coffee, reading today’s news. I would not have felt. The moments during our days would be purely intellectual with no deeper meaning to them. There would not be that feeling that fills out the thought, action or reason for why. Thinking about this, I can only describe it as robotic, hollow.

So then why do we need the full range of emotions? Couldn’t we just have happiness and forget about the rest? Typically when I ask clients this, they laugh envision a world where everyone would be constantly happy. It may be fun for a bit, but after a while it may become draining or even as drab as a world with no emotions. Without the full range we miss out on the positive things that having a complex set of emotions brings to our lives. We are able to know when we are happy because we are also able to know when we are sad. Having a wide range of emotions provides a comparison point to distinguish one from the other. And from these differences we can then work on uncovering the degrees of an emotion to gain better insight into our lives.

Having a wide range of emotions provides our days with more meaning. It’s why when we remember a moment of elation we can often tap back into how we felt in that moment. Emotions fill out those moments, planting more complex memories deeper in our minds. Additionally, we can become mindful of our emotions to become more insightful about ourselves. Recognizing that certain situations bring hope to our hearts or panicky thoughts are ways we can learn who we are. With this knowledge we can take control of our lives, and supply our toolboxes with the skills we need to manage any moment or emotion.

Still skeptic? Do the Google search I mentioned at the beginning of this post. With over 11 million results surely there is evidence that better articulates the importance of our emotions. And maybe you will discover a new one that resonates with you!

Katie Infusino is currently finishing her Masters work in Community Counseling at DePaul University. As an intern at The Awakening Center she sees clients for individual sessions, co-leads the Monday Narrative Therapy Body Image Group, as well as the Tuesday evening support group. Katie loves sharing the emotions charts she finds and working with clients to better understand the positive intentions behind each emotion. 

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