Emotions have a purpose

Published 10:31 am Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Being human means we possess a gamut of emotions; it’s part of our hardware. Take away our emotions and we become robotic. Delete love and song writers would starve. We need emotions for passionate living. Feelings are not good or bad, but neutral. However, emotions out of balance can trigger hurtful words, rowdy reactions and disrupting behaviors.

For example, the emotion of anger serves a purpose. Anger and aggression is a survival mechanism to protect our lives when in danger. Anger challenges us to stand up against injustice, unfairness and to promote human rights for freedom. It motivates us to pass laws to protect innocent children. By using anger as an energy force we can peacefully prevent and speak out against discrimination, racism and prejudice through organizations.

However, when anger is out of control it can produce rage, revenge and violence. Some of our anger is a reaction to feelings of hurt, embarrassment, shame, rejection, anxiety, or guilt. That’s why anger is considered a secondary emotion; there are usually other feelings simmering underneath.

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Where are emotions produced? The Limbic System, an area in the brain, houses emotions and an almond-shaped Amygdala is identified as the seat of fear. Saying, “I love you with all of my heart” needs to be changed to “I love you with all of my brain.”

Emotions are not in your heart; the heart pumps blood. Valentine’s Day chocolates need to be shaped like tiny brains and not hearts.

Children are fascinated with the brain models I have in my counseling room. Our brains are in charge of thinking and feeling and our bodies are in charge of doing and responding. However, our emotions are experienced in body sensations.

As a child therapist, I teach children to learn to identify, label and express their feelings appropriately instead of screaming, hitting, biting and throwing toys.

Raging outbursts, excessive crying, and intense emotional reactions serve a purpose and I help parents and kids examine feelings, behaviors and make changes.

Helping, teaching and role-modeling human emotions begin at birth. Children are born with the innate ability to cry so caretakers will feed them and provide love and attention. As children grow, they observe and imitate emotional responses of parents, caretakers, siblings, relatives, neighbors and friends.

Teenagers can learn to manage funky feelings and tame tongues because the brain is in charge. Nobody grabs your tongue and makes you scream at others. Nobody pinches your tongue and makes you cuss.

Nobody makes you say unkind words to others. Your tongue is attached to your brain. Who owns your tongue? Who owns your emotions? You are the manager of your emotional actions and reactions. Develop a plan to monitor feelings. Keep a daily record of your emotions and behaviors for one week.

Write down what happened before, during and after emotional situations. Explore and examine your feelings and responses. Develop an approach to be a self-manager. Be patient with yourself. It takes time to make changes. Feelings come and go and ebb and flow. Feelings are temporary and can be managed.

“This problem will pass and I’ll feel better” and “It’s OK. I can stand it anyway.” These self-talk statements explain that feelings are manageable.

Adults in my generation were rarely taught about emotional regulation. In today’s society emotional and social skills are connected and presented in preschools and beyond. Learning to mange emotions is essential in our relationships with others.

Feelings help us to experience joy and pleasure. With our emotions, we process sadness and grief; frustration and anger; fear and anxiety; and all our other feelings. An important mental health message is to learn to experience, understand, process, express and manage our funky feelings and to help our children do the same.


Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an Ohio Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, consultant, and educator. She lives and works in rural southern Ohio.