You’re here because you’re wondering what the purpose of emotions is, why do we have these feelings, both good and bad, that significantly affect our lives? For most of us, experiencing the emotions we consider positive isn’t the issue, we like those. Where we struggle is with the emotions that don’t feel good and we don’t like to experience them.
Experiencing what is called negative emotions, is not something most of us enjoy or desire, but they are a part of life. This begs the question of what is the purpose of emotions, especially those that don’t make us feel good? My goal in this article is to help you understand why we have emotions and what purpose they serve.
Our emotions are neither good nor bad, they just are.
Human beings tend to categorize emotions into two categories: good and bad. The good ones being the ones that make us feel “good” – like happiness, and joy, and the bad ones being those that make us feel “bad” – like sadness, anger, anxiety, and grief,
However, no matter how our emotions make us feel, they are actually neither good nor bad, they just are and serve an important purpose in our lives.
Let me use an analogy to help explain what I am trying to say. Most of us run around barefoot at some time, some more than others. So I want you to imagine that you are walking around barefoot in your backyard and all of a sudden as you put your left foot down on the ground you experience an intense, sharp pain! What is the first thing that you do, at least after you express a few choice expletives? Here is a likely scenario:
You: I would stop and check out my foot,
You: Because I need to figure out what happened, what the problem is so I can fix it.
Me: What would happen if you ignored the pain and just kept walking? Would the pain go away?
You: No, the pain would most likely get worse and so would the problem with my foot.
Me: So, what was the purpose of the pain?
You: To warn me that something was wrong with my foot, so I could fix it.
Me: Did you like the pain? Is it something you wanted?
You: No, of course not!
Me: Let me ask you this then if I could wave a magic wand and take away you ever experiencing pain again, would you take me up on my offer?
You: Well, maybe….. No, I wouldn’t want you to take the pain away, even though I don’t like it or want it.
Me: Why not?
You: Because it let me know I had a problem with my foot so I could fix it. Without the pain, I would never have known my foot was hurt and it probably would have gotten a lot worse!
Negative emotions serve a good purpose just like pain.
The purpose of feeling pain is to warn us that something is wrong, so we can do something about it, and it is the same for our emotions, particularly the ones we see as negative. The only purpose for negative emotions is to warn us that something in our emotional life is wrong and we need to deal with it.
Unfortunately, if you’re like me and most other people, we find ways to ignore our feelings and the warnings they provide until they are shouting so loud we can no longer ignore them. It’s like a young child who wants an adults’ attention, they will initially start out fairly quiet in trying to get our attention, maybe tugging on our pants or patting our leg. However, if we ignore them at this point, do they go away? Not any of the children I know.
So what do they do? They get louder and more demanding until we are finally forced to pay attention to them, but by then we’re usually upset with them and don’t respond very well. Our emotions are like that too. The early warnings are quiet and subtle – maybe you’re feeling a little frustrated, but it is easy to ignore that and continue on with your day. However, does the frustration go away? Not usually, instead, it slowly builds until something happens, the final straw on the camels back, and you blow up in anger at the unlucky person who was that straw.
It is at that point you finally pay attention to the “pain in your foot,” that feeling of frustration, but unfortunately not before your emotional state has negatively impacted someone else. If you had chosen to listen to the warning a lot earlier, it would never have had to reach that breaking point.
So what is the purpose of our emotions?
The purpose of our emotions is to alert us to the fact that something is “off” in our emotional world. That something is wrong and that we need to take the time, just like we did with our foot analogy, to find out what the problem is.
Ignoring the early warning signs that emotions offer is a recipe for disaster and usually ends up causing hurt or distress to those around us. The frustration that builds leads to anger, anger that builds leads to “blowing up”, and anxiety that is ignored builds to extreme anxiety and possibly leads to anxiety attacks.
Our emotions are not intended to be viewed as either good or bad, but rather as an early warning sign that something is wrong in our emotional world or with our emotional well-being. When we choose to ignore their warning, we usually end up paying a much higher price, one that frequently causes damage to our relationships with those around us.
Our emotions are a gift to us. One that is intended to help us lead healthy, positive lives, in harmony with the world and others around us. We ignore them to our own and other’s detriment.
So remember the pain/foot analogy, and the next time one of your emotions comes knocking, trying to get your attention, take the time to listen.
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