There seem to be a few common emotions that rule most of our daily lives. Happiness, sadness, anger or excitement drive a high majority of our decisions. We choose what to do (and avoid other things) based on the feelings and reactions they incite. When it’s not one of these better understood emotions driving a decision, it’s another more rare or severe one that pushes us to a certain behavior.
But what are emotions? Do we all have the same understanding of them? Does your family talk about and discuss the impact of emotions on your lives?
What are Emotions?
Emotions, wrote Aristotle (384–322 BCE), “are all those feelings that so change men as to affect their judgments, and that are also attended by pain or pleasure. Such are anger, pity, fear, and the like, with their opposites. An emotion is a feeling with its distinctive thoughts, psychological states, and range of propensities to behave.”
Oxford Languages definition: “a strong feeling deriving from one's circumstances, mood, or relationships with others.”
The Neuroanatomy of emotions:
Quoting Psychosurgery (Author Marc Lévêque):
Common to many mammalians, the limbic system is a set of anatomical structures involved in emotions. This system includes the prefrontal cortex - where emotions access consciousness - as well as the hippocampus, amygdala, and hypothalamus. The hypothalamus and its extension, the pituitary gland, causes the visceral manifestations associated with these emotions. These emotional manifestations can be triggered by consciousness, but inversely, physical states can be made conscious thanks in part to the insula. The regulation of these emotional responses is also accomplished by subcortical structures: the basal ganglia.
Neurotransmitters are linked to a specific emotion. The most highly researched are serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and norepinephrine. Serotonin is called the feel-good neurotransmitter that gives us a feeling of well-being and satisfaction. Lower than normal levels are associated with depression. Dopamine is the main neurotransmitter released in anger, aggression, and jealousy. Oxytocin is the neurotransmitter of love and bonding.
Types of emotions:
• Primary Emotions are those that are naturally present and include joy, happiness, sadness, fear, surprise, disgust, sadness,anticipation, and acceptance.
• Secondary Emotions are the result of a combination of primary emotions and are learned over time. Think jealousy, remorse, greed, lust, hatred, and shame.
Emotions can be expressed verbally (through words and tone of voice) and non-verbally (by facial expressions and body language, such as gestures and movements). Body language such as a slouched posture or clenched fists, or facial expressions such as big smiles or raised eyebrows can be used to send different emotional signals to another.
Emotions are a part of human nature. They give us information about what we're experiencing and help us know how to react. We sense our emotions from the time we're babies. Infants and young children react to their emotions with facial expressions or with actions like laughing, cuddling, or crying. They feel and show emotions, but they can’t yet name the emotion or understand why they feel that way - a learning experience that’s key to growing up. As we grow, we become more skilled in identifying and understanding emotions, and develop a skill known as emotional awareness.
Emotional awareness helps us know what we (and others) need and want (or don't want!). It helps us build better relationships (in life, love and work), because being aware of our emotions will lead us to better define and talk about feelings more clearly, avoid or resolve conflicts better, and move past difficult feelings more easily.
Some people are naturally more in touch with their emotions than others. The speed and process of learning is different for everyone. The good news though is everyone can learn to be more aware of their emotions. It just takes practice, and it’s better to introduce that practice to our children at a young age. The efforts are worth it, because emotional awareness is the first step toward building emotional intelligence, a skill that is key in helping many people succeed in life.
The ability of an individual to recognize their own and other people’s emotions, reason through them and use them to their advantage is called emotional intelligence (measured as EQ). It is the capacity to identify, understand and control the expression of emotions.
There are 4 components of emotional intelligence:
1. Self-Awareness: Recognising one's feelings as they occur is emotional intelligence. It is the ability to monitor feelings from moment to moment. It is key to understanding one's own emotions. It makes the person confident when making important life decisions.
2. Managing emotions: Having appropriate emotional reactions is a capacity that builds on self-awareness; the ability to modulate negative expressions like anger and depression is a crucial emotional skill. Allow your child to vent their feelings and acknowledge that it’s okay to be sad or angry.
3. Motivating oneself: Being able to focus on your goals is essential for achieving your desired range of accomplishments. Emotional self-control is crucial for goal management and success.
4. Recognizing emotions: It is important to understand what emotions other people are feeling. Empathy is fundamental to interpersonal relationships, because those who understand others’ feelings are likely to be more successful in personal and professional settings. Emotionally intelligent people are more likely to conduct smooth and healthy relationships. For example, in the relationship of husband and wife, both of them should understand the emotions of their spouse to turn their relationship into a healthier and happier one. Similarly, parents must learn to understand, appreciate and support their children with their emotions. Some parents have a difficult time identifying and understanding their children’s emotions (especially when their kids hit puberty), so it’s important to keep an open conversation about our feelings and moods when our children are young, so they’ll be more willing to talk about their emotions when they are adolescents.
How to improve your emotional intelligence?
1. Take note of your reactions. Do you rush to judge people? Do you stereotype? Try to put yourself in other people's shoes before jumping to a reaction, and always be open to their perspective and experiences.
2. Do a self-evaluation. What are your weaknesses? Accept that you are not perfect and you can work on those weaknesses. Have the courage to look at yourself honestly and examine how you react to stressful situations. Do you become upset when there is a delay in something? Do you blame others even when it is not their fault? It’s important to keep your emotions in control when things go wrong.
3. Examine how your actions will affect others. How would you feel if that bad experience happens to you? If you understand the feelings of others, you will try to avoid such actions that will lead to other people feeling bad.
4. Record when your emotions occur. Once you have a sense of when emotions arise and how they feel, you can take note of your emotions to further understand them. To learn more about the specific emotions you experience and what triggers them in your life, keep a log of when you feel severe emotions, and write down what you think triggered them.