All emotions serve a purpose - even the 'negative' ones - why we need to listen carefully to what they are telling us. Image courtesy of MisterGC at freedigitalphotos.net
Happiness, Peace, Sadness, Anger, Fear: as humans we will experience these feelings to varying intensities throughout our lives. It is part of the deal of “being human.”
Most of us feel comfortable with the ‘good’ emotions: happiness and peace, for example. I don’t know about others, but I feel rather scared of the ‘bad’ feelings: sadness, and fear for example.
However, feelings serve a purpose. They are a clue or a guide to how we are, consciously or unconsciously feeling about a situation, a person or a thought.
For example, studies have suggested that we are evolutionarily predisposed to have an innate fear of snakes. That is, we are afraid without being told they are dangerous. This obviously serves an important purpose: to avoid poisoning or even death.
On the brighter side, happiness gives us clues that our current thoughts, situation or assessment of a situation is positive.
It would be interesting if our society was as comfortable with the negative emotions as the positive ones. For example, many people are afraid to cry in public – they may feel they are being weak: often others are scared because they are uncomfortable with their own sadness.
However, I wonder if sadness was seen as acceptable, whether it would feel quite as painful. It is certainly a normal emotion. However, it is one that some people are scared of. Perhaps, they fear rejection if they express it. This can result in feelings like sadness being suppressed. Over time, we may not even realise we are sad. Interestingly, tears contain cortisol, a stress hormone, and crying may well have a purpose of releasing tension. This could be why many report feeling better ‘after a good cry’.
Why it is seen as weak to express sadness seems illogical to me anyway. It just means you are a normal human being with a capacity to feel. I have wondered if one of the reasons people turn to alcohol, binge eating and drugs is to suppress emotions they don’t feel comfortable with.
Without sadness, how would we recognise happiness? Without fear, how would we appreciate security and safety. Without anger, we could allow anybody to act inappropriately or offensively. If we had no sense of being wronged, we are open to violation.
So, it may well be that each emotion has a role. So, when we feel sad, could we actually say ‘ah ha!’: what is this telling me? For example, I feel sad when I think about the possibility of losing someone dear to me. This tells me that certain people, for example family, are important to me. Thus, feelings can be a guide to our values.
However, if sadness, or any emotion is disapproved of continually, we may learn to suppress it so well, we don’t even realise it is present. We may therefore become more muddled about our values. Our values dictate our behaviour. Because we are not aware of what is making us sad, we walk in the dark and are therefore more susceptible to being in further situations which elicit the same sad feelings.
Emotions also keep us safe, as in being afraid of snakes.
Sometimes, we may be scared of the negative feelings because we may think if we allow them to just be, they may grow out of control like some monster and debilitate us.I
However, if we allow it to be, it can give us clues as to what is making us feel sad. For example, you may feel sad if you have a fight with a close friend. If it is suppressed, we may not even be able to acknowledge that this friendship was so important to us.
Essentially, there seems a pattern emerging when we choose to either acknowledge and allow feelings, or ignore and suppress them. If we ‘listen’ to them, they serve as a guiding light, telling us what and who is important to us, what we like doing, and what we don’t, and so on.
On the other side of the same coin, if we ignore happiness, we are not attuned to what gives us pleasure, and we may become depressed. If we ignore peace, we are not going to be able to find that ‘still place’ where calm may be found. If we ignore fear, we may hurt ourselves, and engage in dangerous behaviours. If we ignore sadness, we may become oblivious to what parts of our lives are causing this feeling, and become prone to depression. If we ignore anger, we may become resentful over a long time, or allow others to treat us badly.
Each emotion is therefore important it would seem: if we listen carefully, the guiding light becomes brighter. We are therefore more likely to be self-aware about how to use this light to navigate the tunnel of light. We will know what to approach, what to avoid, what fulfils us, what may be missing.
You don’t necessarily have to cry publicly or loudly or yell if you are angry – however a quiet recognition is important because, as a guiding light, it provides us with direction, insight, and what decisions to make.
Therefore, it is worthwhile to take time, by yourself in a quiet place if possible now and then to become attuned to your feelings. The more you become aware of what triggers what feelings, the more power you have to direct your life and become self-aware.