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The Purpose of Emotions

Every one of us experiences a number of different emotions throughout the day.

Experiences, circumstances, thoughts, relationships, and our physical health play a major role in influencing the emotions we may experience at a given time. While some emotions may get a bad wrap for feeling overwhelming and tough to deal with, every emotion serves an important purpose. They can motivate us to take meaningful action, influence us to make an important decision, and allow us to better understand ourselves and others.

When we experience an emotion, it may help to look at it as an expression of a need that needs to be met. In order to better regulate and accept our emotions, we first need to better understand their unique purpose.

Emotions play an essential role in how we communicate with others.

About 70 – 90% of communication is non-verbal, meaning that our body language, tone, and facial expressions may communicate even more in a moment than our words do. For example, crying with a friend after a shared conflict may indicate to them that you are hurt and in need of empathy. It may also indicate to a friend the emotional pain that occurs at the thought of losing that relationship, and can signal the personal importance of that friendship.

Emotions also motivate us to take action.

For example, the feeling of fear can indicate to us where we lack a sense of safety. It may motivate us to fight, fight, or freeze at the first sign of danger. Feeling the emotion of fear can motivate our body to act when it is really essential. On the hand, when we feel anger, we may feel motivated to notice where a boundary needs to be drawn and then take action.

Emotions also signal a need.

If we look at emotions this way, we can build a better understanding of our values and what is truly important to us. When we feel guilt, we may look at it as a sign that we have acted against our core values. We may be motivated to then reflect on those values and move forward accordingly. Feeling jealousy can motivate us to better understand where we need internal validation, security, and self-compassion. Jealousy within a relationship can even be viewed through the lens curiosity rather than judgment, and can then allow us to communicate our needs to our partner(s). Feeling joy can remind us of who and what is important in our lives, and can inspire us to focus more attention on those particular things.

When we feel a difficult emotion, we may be tempted to ignore or push down the feeling. Ignoring our emotions can over an extended period of time may lead to further emotional stress. Learning how to feel our feelings rather than push them away can be helpful, healthy, and useful in growing our self-awareness and caring for our mental health.

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