This blog is the 2nd in a series about the anatomy of emotions. Last week, I wrote about key factors in our primary and secondary emotions, and I offered some tips for how to work with emotions in your daily life. This week, I’d like to detail some of the essential functions of emotions.
In my work with couples, adult, and family therapy in Washington, DC, I help clients gain better skills for managing their emotions in their daily lives and relationships so that they can feel more connected, competent and confident. Yet, after three degrees in this field, I am still amazed about how much more there is to learn about the function of emotions.
Here are a few key notes outlined by Dr. Robert Masters about what is important in how our emotions operate. While it is key to note and label the specific emotion, it is also pivotal to notice what we do with the feeling, what we let it become, and what it combines with. For instance, sadness appears as anger when we let our need for emotional attention and connection go unmet. Hate is expressed when anger and hurt are combined; it’s flipside is passion, which also includes anger and hurt. Fear is just fear, but it becomes anxiety or worry when we do something with our fear. Fear can also shift into excitement when we open up to its experience. Disgust becomes contempt when mixed with anger. When allowed, joy can define and expand a pleasurable moment. When attached with negative behaviors, joy can become a preoccupation, an addiction or a process of denial.
Why does this matter? It matters because emotions are our conduit for connection. Emotions act as energy in our relationships. When we avoid, deny or suppress our emotional experiences, we often feel disconnected from ourselves, our lives, and our loved ones. When we’re better able to open up to, to embrace, and to allow our emotions to flow more easily, we get to share emotional space with another and feel soothed, loved and close with those around us. Masters suggests that we all try to become more proficient at turning towards fear in our relationships by learning to embody our emotions and our natural (at times gendered) responses to our emotions. He prescribes a series of practices for each emotion to help us learn to feel our emotions more easily, which then can act as fuel in our daily lives and relationships.
So next time you feel something, ask yourself: Is that in inside or outside emotion? Is this emotion combined with anything else? What am I doing with this emotion? Is that action serving my goal of feeling closer to others, or is it allowing me to exit the relationship or distance from my experience? Is this experience of my emotion giving me energy or draining me of energy?