At a young age, we learn lessons from our families on how to cope, how to get our needs met, and how to protect ourselves. These strategies reinforce one another, and we develop a complex structure of beliefs to support the reasonableness of our behaviors.
Nature developed our emotions over millions of years of evolution. As a result, our emotions have the potential to serve us today as a guidance system. Our emotions alert us when any natural human need is not being met. For example, when we feel lonely, our need for connection with other people is unmet. When we feel afraid, our need for safety is unmet. When we feel rejected, it is our need for acceptance that is unmet.
Our emotions are a useful source of information. Our emotions help us make decisions. Studies show that if we have an accident in which the portion of the brain that deals with emotions is damaged, we cannot make even simple decisions. Why? Because we don’t know how we will feel about our choices.
Our emotions help us communicate with others. Our facial expressions, for example, can convey a wide range of emotions. If we look sad or hurt, we are letting the other person know that we need their help. If we are verbally skilled we will be able to express more of our emotional needs and thereby have a better chance of filling them. If we are good at listening to the emotional needs of others, we are better able to help them feel understood, important, and cared about.
As our society has become more pressured and we are constantly overwhelmed by stress, our ability to recognize and respond to our own feelings and those of others are diminished. Therefore, we are more prone to stress related disorders, including a reduced ability to manage the intense feelings that produce anger. Consequently, there is an increase in road rage, desk rage, person-directed violence, substance abuse, and other harmful displays of anger.
Our emotions are perhaps the greatest potential source of uniting all members of the human race. This is what makes us human. Clearly, our various religious, cultural, and political beliefs have not united us. Far too often, in fact, they divide us. Emotions, on the other hand, are universal. The emotions of empathy, compassion, cooperation and forgiveness, for instance, all have the potential to unite us as people. Out thoughts may tend to divide us, whereas our emotions, if given the chance, will unite us.
George Anderson, MSW, BCD, CAMF, CEAP
Diplomate, American Association of Anger Management Providers
Anderson & Anderson®, The Trusted Name in Anger Management