On Emotions as a Function...

January 13, 2021
Updated: February 22, 2022
Est. Reading: 2 minutes

Emotions actually are information.  Think of emotions as an extension of your 5 senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch). Your 5 senses are your nervous system's communication between your environment (which includes the environment on the outside of your skin AND the environment on the inside of your skin) and your brain.  It's data.  What you do with with that data is up to you. 

How we experience the emotion is sensory based, which is why we call our emotions our feelings. We FEEL them. And like many of the things we feel, we interpret the sensation as good or bad. Or positive or negative. Or right or wrong. But feelings are neither good nor bad, nor or they right or wrong. I will say that again. Feelings are neither good nor bad. Feelings just are. Period. If you are feeling a certain way, it is not good. It is not bad. It just is. This is how you feel.

Our brain processes sensory experience, including our emotions, as pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant. And we cannot help how our brain processes sensory input. The stuff that is pleasant, we usually want more of (think of eating something sweet).  The stuff that is neutral, we may hardly notice (think of your clothing resting on your skin).  The stuff that is unpleasant, we usually try to avoid or escape (think of having a headache, or stubbing your pinkie toe).  Unpleasant emotions can make us feel anywhere from mildly uncomfortable (i.e., annoyed) to outright pain (i.e., grief, despair, shame). All emotions can also be graded on intensity: mild; medium; high. It is like the settings on the burners on our stove.  

Emotions are a bit more complex than pure sensory input. If you are human, you get this. There aren't enough words in the English language to truly describe the complex sensory experience of our emotions. This doesn't stop us humans from trying, and we do a pretty good job of it with what we have. But how to describe what we truly and purely feel is limited by our language.

The other thing about emotions that can trip us humans up, is that emotions don't come from a situation or an experience. Our emotions come from how we experience the situation, and interpret that experience. What this means-- our emotions come from how we think about an event, what it means to us, and how we interpret that event. The event doesn't make you feel, the way you think about the event makes you feel.

So what? "What can I do about this?", you might be asking. Well, for a start, instead of labeling your emotions as good or bad, describe how you are experiencing (or feeling) the emotion with pleasant, neutral or unpleasant. Don't forget to include the intensity. Then, try to describe what the emotion is in a word. "I feel ________." It can be tricky, but you can do it! Give it a try.

© Rita Haley, LMHC