Emotions control our lives. Whether you like it or not, every emotion guides our decisions, our minds and even our health. We are accompanied by them every day. Our emotions make us laugh, rejoice, cry, scream. But they also enable us to make the impossible possible, serve as our protection and guide and accompany us on our personal and right path.
There are always discussions about what belongs to the basic emotions (or supergroups). We agree here on seven, based on Paul Ekman: happiness, sadness, fear, anger, disgust, surprise, contempt.
The emotions are controlled in the head and release the corresponding neurotransmitters and hormones. These in turn influence our entire body and our actions. Emotions therefore not only have a cognitive influence, but also set motivational, physical and neurophysiological reactions in motion.
This means that the emergence of an emotion is only the beginning of a longer chain of events.
- one analyses and interprets a situation, depending on one’s own experience, and associates an emotion with it
- this emotion (joy, sadness, fear, disgust, anger, surprise, contempt) is felt
- and transmits the information to the body, such as the facial musculature, to react instinctively. This is where, among other things, the micro-expressions arise
- finally, there is the considered reaction, i.e. our actions that are visible to others.
But why do you need emotions?
They are an important part of life. They make it possible to control and protect the self. Even the negative emotions that we don’t really like to feel originally serve to protect ourselves. Let’s take fear as an example. Fear is one of the most important emotions that most intensively controls one’s own actions. Fear of being alone, fear of being hurt, fear of losing freedoms, fear of control, fear of the abyss, fear of height, fear of spiders, etc.
All these fears have their origin and their reason — they protect the person who feels them (the origin is often more complex than the reason alone). It is therefore important to look at one’s own fear in order to understand it.
A few questions can help you to understand it better:
Why do you feel the fear?
What physical and mental symptoms accompany it?
What triggers this fear in you?
Understanding the emotion not only helps you to get to know yourself better (intra-communication), but also enables you to communicate clearly with the outside world (inter-communication). In every situation, an emotion arises in us, which is not only important for us, but also for our environment, because we communicate our emotions to them, non-verbally as well as verbally.
The clearer we are about our own emotions and the better we can understand them, the better we can be consciously guided by them and act with our environment. Every emotion must therefore be categorised and assigned in order to understand and guide our future actions.
“Clear and honest communication creates transparency, transparency creates trust, trust again creates openness and honesty, which in turn lays the foundation for long-lasting relationships. And so the circle closes.”
Gaining control over one’s own emotions
Controlling our own emotions is an important part of our lives. While we can rarely prevent our emotions from being presented and communicated to the outside world, we do have an influence on how we deal with them. Let’s refer back to our previous example with fear. So this means that we can analyse the fear we feel and thus find out whether it is a result of self-protection (for example, stopping on a very busy road) or whether the fear is merely preventing you for no reason (for example, the fear of being hurt in a love relationship, thus preventing you from fully engaging with a loved one).
Depending on how we analyse the situation, this affects our behaviour. This means that we can influence how we react to certain emotions once their origin is clearer to us. People who behave wrongly in the eyes of others do not necessarily behave objectively wrongly, but always on the basis of past experiences and the analysis of their own emotions based on them. This also plays a big role in verbal and para-verbal communication. Which words one uses and how one emphasises and articulates them not only provides an insight into one’s own cultural environment and how one was brought up, but also reflects one’s own emotional state.
Micro-expressions are reflexive, uncontrollable contractions of the facial muscles that last for a fraction of a second and communicate a feeling to the outside world via facial expressions. There are many different micro-expressions, but seven basic emotions (according to Paul Ekman) are fundamentally defined: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, Surprise, Mépris and Disgust. These are universally recognisable and provide an insight into a person’s intuitive emotional state. (Cultural differences should nevertheless be noted here. In Asia, for example, smiling is used in a culturally different way.) They arise from an experienced emotion in the brain and are passed on “unfiltered” to the facial muscles via information and are thus visible to others (in the case of micro-expression, these are often hardly recognisable because they happen very quickly and people tend to suppress or want to cover them up. For example, that inner gut feeling that everyone is familiar with when interacting with someone for the first time is probably based on the subconscious perception of a micro-expression. Non-verbally, these are very useful for analysing information passed on in communication with others.
This transmission of information works, but also vice versa. Laughing a lot, by which we mean the genuine laughter that comes from the heart, sets in motion emotional muscle feedback, which, with the help of neurotransmitters that in turn stimulate the specific brain zones, ultimately brings about and reinforces the feeling of joy. Accordingly, this also has a direct, albeit small, influence on the mind.
Conversely, this means that a person who, for example, constantly pulls his eyebrows together (an indicator of anger) tends to be more tense and thus also more quickly excitable and stressed.
In positive psychology, laughter exercises are prescribed based on this. These are supposed to stimulate a feeling of happiness and well-being. For example, a smile when talking on the phone is transferred to the voice and thus has a positive effect on the person on the other end of the line. The conversation is thus positively influenced. Here the external influence of the emotions felt becomes clear.
Becoming happier through understanding one’s own emotions
Understanding and dealing with one’s own emotions is thus a fundamental necessity for every human being. Recognising one’s own emotions creates the necessary basis for interpretation in order to integrate them more easily into everyday life and to be able to communicate them to the outside world. This puts you in a calmer state of mind, which not only has a positive physical experience as a consequence, but also has a positive effect on the way you deal with other people. All this has a positive effect on one’s own life in the long term.
Emotions therefore say nothing about whether one is strong or weak, but they help us to find our own individual path to a happier life. It is therefore important to understand exactly what you are feeling, why you are feeling this emotion, towards whom and to classify this exactly in the respective life situation in order to act in a relaxed and balanced way when dealing with others but also with yourself.
P.S.: A very vivid family film was made about this, which I can recommend to everyone: Alles steht Kopf (OV: Inside out)