Last update: 27 September, 2020
Each of us has different needs, as Maslow explained well with his pyramid. Some are basic needs, like nutrition and protection, others are about relationships, like affection and recognition. Emotions help us to satisfy our needs, as they help us to survive, to distinguish between a dangerous situation and one that causes us well-being. They push and motivate us to relate and communicate with others.
In this way, emotions become our inseparable travel companions. Sometimes, however, we get tired of having them by our side day and night. To get a better inner coexistence, we must learn to manage them.
We exist and communicate thanks to emotions
Emotions are necessary for survival; one of their main functions is to prepare us physiologically for action. Many animals have effective emotional behavior, meaning certain emotions allow you to act immediately. This is perhaps the most important way our emotions help us meet our needs.
For example, when we are afraid after seeing a snake, before even thinking about whether it is poisonous or not, our body has already reacted. In this case, the heart rhythm accelerates to get more blood to the muscles and make us move to escape possible danger. Consequently, if we need to get out of a situation quickly, we don't waste time thinking and increase our chances of survival.
Emotions communicate information to others about how we perceive and interpret stimuli internal and external. Generally a good part of this communication occurs through non-verbal communication. This type of communication is faster, more natural and intuitive than verbal language. In this way, even if it is not our intention, the communication of emotions exerts an influence on others.
Emotions serve as a guide, as they give us valuable information on every situation. They help us to understand if the experience is convenient depending on whether it is perceived as pleasant or unpleasant. So, we would like to repeat it or avoid it. Emotions, therefore, are like an internal compass that helps us orient ourselves and shed light on what is important.
Emotions help us meet our needs
Emotions are neither positive nor negative, some are simply pleasant (like cheerfulness) while others unpleasant (like anger and helplessness). All emotions have a purpose, are valid and necessary. We could see them as our travel companions, as friends who want to help us and who show us what our needs are. For instance:
- Anger: we feel anger in an unfair situation or when we perceive that our rights have been violated. We must try to stop it and protect ourselves.
- Sadness: we are sad when we lose a person, an object, a job, etc. In many cases, sooner or later we need another person's contact for consolation.
- Fear: we are afraid when we face a dangerous situation. We need to feel safe and secure.
- Allegria: we feel joy when we win or reach a goal, be it a pleasant experience, a personal goal, a work outcome, material goods, etc. We usually need to share it with other people.
If we didn't feel anger, would we protect ourselves? If we didn't feel sad, could we assimilate the losses? If we weren't frightened, how would we know that we are facing a danger? If we did not experience happiness, how would we know what causes us well-being and then repeat the experience? Let the emotions do their job and guide us!
4 strategies to regulate emotions
That emotions guide us is good, but we have to find the right way. We cannot be guided by instincts alone, regardless of our thoughts. Feeling any kind of emotion is a benefit, but up to a point. We cannot let emotion overwhelm us without allowing ourselves to get out of it. For this, we need to know how to manage them. The following strategies help us regulate them:
Being aware of the emotion we are experiencing helps us manage it. Knowing how to differentiate, for example, if we are sad or angry and being able to recognize the concrete situation or the thought that gave rise to this emotion, gives us more information and then acts accordingly. Being aware of our emotions helps us to recognize them in others and, therefore, to be more empathetic.
As we have said, there are emotions that we consider unpleasant, such as sadness, which we normally try to remove from our emotional repertoire. However, we must learn to tolerate them. Emotions come and go ... like the waves of the sea. Everything has its course. If we are sad now, it does not mean that we have to be sad forever, nor that we are sad people.
We are capable of self-regulating. As Greenberg (2000) explains, knowledge of emotions brings personal clarity and self-control. If we understand that a direct battle against our emotions is useless, we can have more control over them. This means not only letting the sensation fade over time, but also trying to put aside the negative thoughts that make it more intense, distracting ourselves from decreasing in intensity, controlling impulsiveness, delaying gratifications, etc. In this way, we will take care of ourselves and increase our well-being.
Express and communicate
Apart from having our own resources, we can, indeed we must, express the emotion and communicate it to the people around us. It is necessary to share emotions. We must believe in others and seek the support of those who might lift us, communicate our feelings and needs.
Ultimately, emotions help us meet our needs and guide us on how to act. They are very precious, because thanks to them we can survive and communicate with others. We first perceive emotions and then decide how to react, thus being responsible for our actions. So let's try to be consistent with our feelings and thoughts. And above all, let's do it assertively, that is, respecting our needs and those of others.