I don’t care what you are, whether a Buddhist monk or a sociopath, we all have emotions, and emotions play a huge role in how we think and behave.
In truth, emotions seem to be a byproduct of consciousness itself, our ability to experience the world from our own unique vantage point of self-perception. As human beings, we experience our world through a multitude of different senses. According to most research on perception, humans sense the world in over 10 different modalities: sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch, balance and acceleration, temperature, proprioception (our 3d representation of how our body is positioned), pain, direction, among other internal receptors in our lungs, bladder, esophagus and more.
This raw sensory “data” conglomerates into what we call everyday experience. It is the building blocks of all our thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and relationships.
Our brain is so complex in arranging this data that it becomes a kind of sensory organ all on it’s own. When we reflect on a past event, we can experience that memory in an entirely different way depending on other thoughts and feelings we experience in the moment. Similarly, we can create entirely new sensory experiences through our dreams, imagination, and creativity.
Our minds are designed to eat up information and organize it in significant and meaningful ways. How we digest this information will ultimately affect our thoughts, behaviors, and well-being in the future.
Some information gets deleted, it just isn’t worth remembering. For example, do you remember what you had for lunch a year from today?. Our minds aren’t infinite in memory, so much of what we sense and experience is eventually discarded and forgotten, especially if it’s not very important.
Presumably, it’s only what the mind finds important that we actually remember. Like that time you touched a hot stove when you were 3 years old. That’s something very useful to know for your survival, right? So your brain quickly makes the association “stove → hot → pain.”
In a healthy brain, the more we experience, the more we learn about our environment, and the more associations we build. In early development, we first learn the building blocks necessary for survival, then we slowly start building more complex associations and deeper relationships with our world. This is where our emotional world begins to come into play.
One of the deepest ways we experience our world is on the emotional level. Compared to our raw senses and perception, emotions are a particular form of “higher order processing” that goes on in our mind. They represent complex relationships between ourselves and our environment, concepts like morality, justice, and happiness. Emotions are often comprised of a web of different feelings, thoughts, memories, dreams, imaginations, and other experiences. They are highly contextual phenomenon.
Emotions are also crucial to a healthy functioning mind, because they guide us on how we should act in a particular situation. As Marvin Minsky points out in The Emotion Machine (which is, yes, where I got the name for this blog), emotions are not opposed to rational cognition, but are instead “different ways of thinking” about “different problem types” that exist in our world.
Therefore, instead of thinking of emotions as primitive or misguiding, we should learn how to use them in more effective ways. We should treat them as a necessary psychological function, just like breathing and digestion.
Many but not all people seem to hold the belief that emotions are something that gets in the way of reason and problem-solving. Perhaps they think emotions should somehow be avoided. However, the fact of the matter is emotions exist for a very functional purpose. And because they are so important when navigating throughout our lives, they can never be fully avoided or suppressed by a healthy brain.
We need to find ways for our emotions to be properly expressed and learned from. We can’t hold them in forever. That would be like always eating, but never allowing anything to be digested and excreted. Emotions are like poop, they will eventually come out whether we want them to or not.
Do you have an avenue to express your emotions? Or do they bubble to the surface unexpectedly? Anger, frustration, sadness – these are all experiences we typically don’t like, but they are sometimes necessary during different points in our lives. Are you prepared to face them? Or do you try to bury them in your subconscious?
There isn’t necessarily any right or wrong way to respond to emotions. But if we suppress them, some might erupt in the form of arguments, violence, drug abuse, or other harm. Luckily there are many healthier ways to express our feelings too.
Some healthy ways to release/express emotions:
- Conversation: talk to someone who is a good listener
- Art: try writing, painting, playing music, or some other creative endeavor
- Meditation: experience your emotions in a non-judgmental awareness.
- Exercise: release pent up energy you’ve built throughout the day.
- Empathy: caring about others helps redefine our narrow sense of self.
By engaging in activities such as these, we acknowledge our emotions, process them more deeply, learn from them, and apply them in more productive and meaningful ways. They don’t constipate our psychological system or spill out like diarrhea.
How do you prefer to release/express your emotions?
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