The Story of Emotion

Where do emotions come from? Are they simply a wave that rolls over you, unpredictable and unchangable?

Emotions are triggered by events in our environments or in our bodies. Something happens that starts the process of an emotional experience. This could be anything from rain outside to feeling sore from exercise.

It is our thoughts about an event, not the event itself, that determines the emotion we will experience. If it is raining, you might think “I hate the rain” or you might think “At least it’s not snow.” Those two different thoughts will result in very different emotions.

You will feel the emotion as physical sensations in your body. A few examples are that sinking feeling in your stomach, your heart racing, a lack of energy or a burst of energy.

Verbal communication is the ability to name and label the emotion. What does that sinking feeling mean? How about sweaty palms and a racing heart? The ability to name and label your emotions adds a feeling of control and actually can decrease their intensity.

Finally there is an action urge with each emotion. Fear causes us to want to run or hide, anger causes an urge to approach and attack, happiness to reach out to others.

Prompting Event: Something happens
Interpretation: What do you think about he prompting event?
Body Response: What physical sensations do you feel? How does your face change?
Verbal Communication: Can you name the emotion? Can you communicate it verbally to others?
Action Urges: What do you feel

Understanding the story of emotions is an essential step in beginning to change how you feel. You can begin to change how you feel by finding ways to have more pleasant experiences or by changing how you think about the events that are already happening in your life.

2 Replies to “The Story of Emotion”

  1. I read your peice on May 2. and although I understand it, I am unable to control my emotions when I am very upset. I can not stop crying. Crying being a sign of weekness my mother would say makes me hide in my room which while crying still makes me feel worse and very alone. It is better though than facing my husband who is constatly watching tv and would be abrupt and then pay me know mind. Thanks for listening.

    1. Hi Sheila,
      I’m sorry to hear that you’re experiencing so much emotional pain and appreciate you sharing it. I disagree that crying is a sign of weakness. I believe that all emotions have a purpose. Sadness is often a signal that we’re not getting what we want, have been rejected, have lost something or someone significant or that we are experiencing helplessness. There are a lot of reasons why an emotion might linger, but attempts to avoid and suppress emotion generally tend to ensure that the emotion sticks around. If you want to read more about emotions and managing your emotions, I have a blog on psych central at http://blogs.psychcentral.com/dbt/ that you may find helpful. If not, it may help to find someone you can talk to.

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