How Every Feeling You Have Carries a Message and Has a Purpose
Have you ever wondered why we have emotions? In reality, our feelings are a more basic part of us than are our thoughts. Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, Neuroscientist, and author of My Stroke of Insight said:
“Although many of us may think of ourselves as thinking creatures that feel, biologically we are feeling creatures that think.”
–Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, Neuroscientist, and author of My Stroke of Insight
Sure, scientists know. But most people do not! In fact, we have all kinds of ways of demeaning and belittling our own feelings and those of others. We call them sappy or sloppy or label them drama; we consider them insipid, tiresome, wimpy, sappy, or lame. These are some of the ways we convince ourselves and others that feelings are useless and in the way.
As a psychologist, I see a widespread lack of tolerance for feelings, which are a deeply personal, biological part of who we are as humans. Indeed, if you grew up in one of the many, many households where emotion was discouraged or poorly tolerated (Childhood Emotional Neglect), you may now, as an adult, have a negative relationship with feelings of all kinds.
You may view feelings as a sign of weakness. You may hide your feelings from yourself and others; even the people you care about the most. You may regard the expression or sharing of feelings as maudlin, illogical, or just plain useless. You may have no idea what you feel or why because you have buried your emotions so deeply, even from yourself.
Why did emotion evolve in the first place? Sometimes, especially to emotionally neglected people, emotions feel like a burden. Wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t have to feel sad when we had a conflict with a friend, angry when someone cuts us off in traffic, or anxious before a job interview? On the surface, maybe it would seem easier if we didn’t have to feel those things. But my belief is that if we didn’t have emotions, life would not be better. In fact, it would not be sustainable.
Emotion is necessary for survival. Emotions tell us when we are in danger, when to run, when to fight, and what is worth fighting for. Emotions are our body’s way of communicating with us and telling us to do things. Below are some examples of the purposes of just a few emotions.
|Fear||Tells us to escape/self-preservation|
|Anger||Pushes us to fight back/self-protection|
|Love||Drives us to care for spouse, children, others|
|Passion||Motivates us to create and invent|
|Hurt||Pushes us to correct a situation|
|Sadness||Tells us we are losing something important|
|Compassion||Pushes us to help others|
|Disgust||Tells us to avoid something|
|Curiosity||Motivates us to explore and learn|
You get the idea. For every emotion, there is a purpose. Emotions are incredibly useful tools to help us adapt, survive and thrive. People who were emotionally neglected were trained to try to erase, deny, push underground, and in some cases, be ashamed of, this invaluable built-in feedback system. Because they are not listening to their emotions, they are operating at a disadvantage from the rest of us. Pushing away this vital source of information makes you vulnerable and potentially less productive. It also makes it harder to experience life to its fullest.
Emotions do more, though, than drive us to do things. They also feed the human connections that give life the depth and richness that make it worthwhile. It is this depth and richness which I believe provides the best answer to the question, “What is the meaning of life?” Emotional connections to others help us stave off feelings of emptiness as well as existential angst.
If you have spent a lifetime trying to deny your natural, biological emotional responses, you may at times feel disconnected, empty, or unfulfilled in life. The people who love you may find you distant, self-contained, or even arrogant. You may find yourself irritable or angry more often than you would like.
To learn more about the value of your emotions, how to identify them, manage them, express them, and use them as they were meant to be, see the books, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.
Childhood Emotional Neglect can be invisible and unmemorable so it can be hard to know if you have it. To find out Take the Free Emotional Neglect Test.
A version of this article was originally published on psychcentral.com. It has been republished here with the permission of the author and Psychcentral.