Emotions are the way our body has to signal that something is happening inside or outside of us. It is therefore very important signals, but when the emotions are too intense we run the risk of dragging us into consequences that are not always positive for us.
Emotions are a fundamental part of our inner life. It’s the way our body has to signal that something is happening, positive or negative, and that it instinctively allows us to react. They are quickly processed by the most primitive circuits of our brain and therefore tend to trigger automatically.
Precisely because of this automaticity, sometimes it is not easy to recognize them. What we might hear, when we feel an emotion, are physiological changes and a certain “itch” to act. For example, when we feel angry, we may experience a generic activation of our body as well as other more or less different signals for each of us: tightened hands, thick shoulders, and a “fire” inside. Similarly, happiness can commonly be associated with classic “butterflies in the stomach”.
What we hear can be so intense and total that you can easily believe it to be something totally unmanageable or inevitable. Almost an unstoppable force that acts against our will, something that is different from us and which can strongly affect our lives.
Emotions can be a powerful tool to guide us through the vicissitudes of life. In a sense, they represent our “guardian angel”. Only sometimes, this guardian angel is a bit too pedantic, not to say paranoid. To be safe, in fact, tends to overestimate anything that can be a threat to our survival (or rather, what we consider to be a survival).
It happens then that an emotion is too intense or painful and that it can overcome reason by making us act without thinking too much, just because the instinct tells us that it is so that we have to do.
Sometimes it’s okay, sometimes it’s definitely bad. Thinking only of the emergency, in fact, risks losing the prospect of the more general picture: by responding only to the immediate circumstances, we risk compromising much more important aspects of our lives. Thinking of the foregoing example, avoiding holding an examination keeps us safe from the suffering of that moment, but it is nothing compared to the long-term effects that may depend on that outbreak, especially if it is repeated over time.
Thus, an emotion can be dysfunctional because, ultimately, it may lead us to react in ways that are not useful and do not interest us. If emotion does not allow us to think clearly and therefore to act effectively in relation to our most important desires and goals, then it may not be functional for our purposes.
To put it short, emotions are nothing more than signals. Significantly important signs, since in the past they saved life to our ancestors and even contributed to structuring the first societies, but that on certain occasions, especially in the modern age where everything is easier but at the same time tremendously more complicated, they may prove inexact, if not harmful.
The problem, therefore, is not the emotions in itself, but the reading we do. Ignore it is almost impossible (and it is not said to be useful), but following them is wrong. If at the thought of the exam we let the anxiety take over, we could read the same paragraph for hours but we will not be able to concentrate to the point of understanding its meaning.
But if we take the time to figure out what’s going on and what fears and beliefs are behind that emotion, if we give the chance to really hear what our instincts are talking about, then maybe we can really understand what to do in that moment.
“I’m afraid of failing, yes, but if I’m taken away from this fear if I cannot even study, would not it be even more likely to fail? What can I do to ease this suffering? But, in the end, would it really be so terrible to fail this exam? Would it really be irremediable?”
And meanwhile, as we try to listen to it openly and without judgment, we could also make an interesting discovery: that anxiety is no longer. Right now, this is no longer anxiety, but simple worry. A mild internal murmur that exhorts us to do more if we want to succeed in that examination, rather than a deafening tumult that, instead of helping us, does nothing but scare, confuse and block us.
Fighting your instincts, against such intense emotions as they feel in the bones and that seem to be part of us, is very difficult. In a sense, it is to fight against oneself.
Emotions are a great resource. They are the door that can lead us to our inner world, made up of dreams, desires, but also fears. We should not be afraid of what landscape we will be contemplating, because it is something within us that is irrespective of whether we see it or not. Seeing it, knowing it and understanding it can make a big difference, though.
Because it is only if we can understand what we want and what we do not want, what can and what we cannot, that we can truly meet our happiness.