When you are cold, you shiver to move yourself to raise body temperature. When you are hot, you sweat to cool off the body. You don’t even have to think about doing this. At times, thinking would not change anything as your body often knows what to do for itself. Amazing, isn’t it?
Most people are aware of this. The idea that the body provides solutions to physical issues for itself is “old news” for some. It may seem it ends there.
Another way the body cares for itself is with emotions. Many people these days struggle greatly with their emotions, feeling they are, “random” or “absent” or “too much”. Some even believe their emotions to be a form of weakness. In fact, our society often tells us the only truly acceptable emotion is happiness. This often makes us think something is wrong with us if we feel any other emotion — even during highly stressful times, such as during a pandemic. Due to this, a great deal of energy is spent attempting to minimize, change, or avoid feeling anything but happy. This leaves people overwhelmed or numb or vacillating between both. For others, the feeling of happiness ignites fear and thoughts of “When the other shoe will drop?” Happiness is taken as a signal that things are “getting too good” and “bad is just around the corner”.
Does any of this resonate with you? Is this “just how it is”? If not, then what is the deal with emotions? Why do we have them and what do they tell us?
As it turns out, they have a lot to say! In reality, emotions are something like a biochemical and electric signal system and are not at all random. They are no more a weakness than the traffic light on the corner! Knowing what your emotions tell you gives you valuable information about yourself and your environment. Attending to this wisdom can result in solving problems before they grow. Ignoring the messages may lead to the emotional “snowball” effect as they increase in strength as opposed to dissipating. Numbness, then, is just as much of a problem as overwhelm. The moral of the story? We need to listen to the feels!
Emotions have meaning messages, physical feelings, and associated action urges. All of these give us information to help us solve life problems. To get a taste of this, let’s start with anger, fear, sadness, and happiness as examples. (Note: The physical feelings are in italics, the action urge is underlined, and the meaning is in bold italics)
Anger’s voice is loud, but it is not scary. When angry, the body feels heat and energy and wants to fight. This can take many forms — firmly stating what you want, persistently addressing a situation, and speaking in an authoritative tone are examples of anger. This makes sense because the messages of anger are injustice and boundary crossing. Think about it. What happened the last time you or someone you know was mistreated or disregarded? Or, maybe when someone tried to force you to do something you don’t want to do? Did you feel the heat? How did you handle it? Did it hone your focus or did you find yourself snippy or frustrated? Despite what people often think, yelling, storming out, or physical intimidation are not examples of anger, but of aggression. The goal, then, is to use anger as a cue to start the search for fairness and appropriate boundaries before you reach the point of becoming aggressive.
Talk about uncomfortable! Fear can present in different ways that often match the specific message. For example, we can experience hyper-focus, rigidity, and a feeling of cold when danger is present. However, if we need to face the unknown, we may experience jitters and scattered thinking. Either way, we tend to want to retreat (flight) from the object of our fear. If we do not know what it is, we may want to isolate it completely or come up with a plan for “every possible scenario”. There are plenty of chances these days to perceive a threat to your physical, mental, emotional, or social safety. If you notice fear, you can check to see if something dangerous or unknown is afoot. Take time to decide how you want to respond. (See Fear versus Anxiety for more information)
Do you notice something so far with the action urges of these two emotions? Fight and flight. Where have you heard those words before? Biology class, you say? Why yes!! It’s biology — not character — that is the source of the urge to act in the face of these emotions. Our actions do reflect certain aspects of our character and experience, but the “want to” is understandable. We can make changes in this with our wise mind. Keep reading…
The first message of sadness is not usually a surprise: disconnection, often in the form of grief and loss. The second message, however, takes some off guard: unfulfillment. Generally speaking, when we experience loss, we feel heavy and lethargic. However, when people talk about unfulfillment, their body usually presents with feelings of emptiness or hollowness. Whichever the issue, the overall action tends to be in the category of stop — the desire to disconnect and cease forward movement. This makes sense, too! Think about it! If you lost something or if you don’t think your life is full, won’t you want to stop and take inventory? This we do by soul-searching or grieving. These are the healthy responses. Sadness is doing its job if it makes you want to do these things. Don’t fight it.
Well, if sadness is grief and unfulfillment, then you got it — happiness is about connection, which often appears as gain and fulfillment. You may tend to feel light or satisfied/full and feel ready to go and move forward. Be careful here, though — many messages you hear in the media each day may lead you to believe you need to accumulate more and more, never-ending. This, however, goes against fulfillment. As soon as we have too much to pay for with our given amount of income or work level, we become a slave to the master. Happiness is unlikely to live there long. However, if we have gained “enough” of “sufficiency”, then we will experience happiness as the current situation allows. A sense of purpose and fulfillment brings delight, as well.
Do you see how wonderfully your system is wired? It’s true, emotions are transient and can often be triggered out of past experience and not current happenings. In other words, they do not tend to stick around beyond the stimulus which causes them. This means that the emotional signals we receive are not always accurate to the current situation. Stay tuned as future editions build on this concept to help us understand the current state of being in America.
For now, pay attention to yourself. When you feel a flood of emotions, remember they are there to tell you something. They are your brain and body’s attempt to communicate to your mind and spirit. Take the time you need to listen. It’s a worthy endeavor!
Written by book author, blogger, & educational/motivational speaker, Hannah Smith, MA LMHC CGP. Founder and owner of Potential Finders Network, Hannah provides consultation, training, and personal development services. Hannah’s passion is to see people reach their potential and find lasting, positive change. If you have topics you want to suggest, please don’t hesitate to contact her at Hannah@PotentialFinders.com and check out the website or Facebook to learn more.