happyHow does emotion affect our lives?


            Our memories are very tightly linked with our emotions.  Typically, the more emotional something is for us, the more memorable it will be.  If an event in our lives cause us to feel an extreme emotion, we will be more likely to remember that event. 

For instance, certain emotional events of a family vacation may cause you to have strong memories of the vacation.  These memories may either leave you with a good or bad feeling about the vacation.  You may have a great memory of your vacation because you got to see the ocean for the first time and you absolutely loved it.  However, if you were badly sunburned at the beach on the first day you may have a bad memory of that vacation.  Or if you were either caught in an undertoe or stung by a jellyfish, this fearful memory may cause you to have negative feelings about the ocean, or even family vacations in general. 


           These emotional memories are very important in helping us make future decisions.  Following the example of the family vacation above, if we have a good memory of the vacation, when we are faced with the decision of going away with the family next year, it’s likely you will decide to go again.  However, if your memory of the vacation was not that great, that too will affect how you decide about future family vacations.  If you remember how you felt being sunburned on day one of the vacation it may cause you to think of several options: a) go someplace you won’t be on a beach, b) bring better sun-protection, or c) don’t go.  A similar thought process may occur if you recall the emotion you felt if you were caught in an undertoe of the ocean. You may: a) go someplace there is no ocean b) learn to be more careful or decide not to go into the ocean or c) decide not to go.   Understanding our emotions becomes important when weighing the options and ultimately making a decision.  The better we understand our emotions (and what that emotion stems from) the better decisions we will make. 

           We learn from our emotional memories.  If our emotional memory of the sunburn is so strong, it may cause us to have an overall negative association with the vacation causing you to decide not to go on vacation next time.   Hopefully this won’t be the case because you examined where this negative emotion stemmed from, and eventually decide that if you are more careful in the sun that you could go and probably have a great time.  If you recall that your fear surrounding the vacation had to do with being careless in the water, it won’t prevent you from going on family vacations all together.  If we do not understand where are emotions stem from, we could make some bad or irrational decisions.  Some of these decisions would be irrational if we attach our emotion for one event (sunburn) to the entire situation (vacation).  It wouldn’t make sense to not go on vacation ever again because we associate the vacation with anger or fear when that anger and fear was the result of only one incident throughout the vacation.  We must understand what caused the anger (not being able to be on the beach because of sunburn) or fear (being caught in an undertoe).  This understanding will help us to make better decisions in the future.  


Our emotions are what drive us.  It’s what causes us to take action.  In primitive times it’s what helped keep us alive.  Fear of something would cause “fight” or “flight”.  We either address it head on or run away.   Before we became more evolved, and more civilized we had to act quickly or die.  Eventually society became more civilized and our success in this world now demands that we think before we act. As a result, our brains began to develop in ways that allowed us to stop and think of the consequences of our behaviors before we blindly act on an emotion. 

            Act before we think:  There are innate triggers (typically threats) in this world that will cause us to act before we think.  Our brains process a threatening event and we respond almost immediately. 

Think before we act: Most situations do not require that we respond instantaneously.   If something makes us angry, we may want to hit something or somebody, but our brains allow us to think through the consequences of this.  Hitting somebody may cause us to temporarily feel good.  But, in the long run, it will have consequences of things such as jail or being sued, or losing a best friend or loved one.  The long-term consequences might make us feel a lot worse than the initial relief we might get from hitting someone. 

Very often we respond to other people’s behaviours based on how we feel about ourselves.  If we are insecure or uncertain about ourselves we are much more likely to have a negative emotional response to somebody’s benign comments or actions.  For example, if I think I’m fat and my husband says to me, “are you going to eat that?”  I might assume he was thinking I shouldn’t eat that because it’s going to make me get fatter.  Result- I get angry and yell  at him. This would be unfortunate since he most likely meant that he wanted the last piece for himself.  If we stopped to think about why something someone did or said made us angry, we might respond more appropriately.  We shouldn’t punish other people for our own feelings.  Being more aware of this may prevent us from acting inappropriately. 


Our relationships are built on our ability to process and understand our emotions as well as others.  When interacting with others, we must understand how the persons with whom we are interacting with are feeling.  If the person is sad, then we should show the appropriate concern (ie. comfort them).  If the person is angry, we should want to find out why (especially if it is us they are mad at) and try to resolve the problem.  If we don’t respond appropriately to others’ emotions it will be assumed we do not care.  This is not usually a desirable characteristic in anyone- a friend,  a spouse, a family member, a boss, or an employee. 

Our emotions: We must express or convey our emotions to others.  If others cannot read us, they will not know how to respond to our needs.  When understanding our emotions we must be honest with ourselves, and be forthright when communicating them to others.  

It seems that sadness and fear are the most mis-communicated emotions.  This is not a scientific finding, just a general observation.  So often we wrongly express anger when we are feeling another emotion, primarily sad or fearful.  It is not always a conscious thing, but a reaction to vulnerability that we may be unaware of, unless we make ourselves think about what we are feeling and why.

Mis-communicating Sad: If we are feeling sad, we must convey that to others.  So often if we are feeling sad, we do not convey that information correctly.  For whatever reason, we put on a front (act tough) and show anger, when in fact we are really hurting.  We may be mad someone hurt us.   But if someone hurt us, we should be careful to show (or express) sadness and not anger.  Usually, people hurt us unintentionally and just need to be told why it is what they did hurt us.  

Mis-communicating Fear or anxiety:  I have had several clients who are afraid.  My clients are people with a brain injury.  Their lives have been changed in a catastrophic instant.  People with brain injury are often confronted with various cognitive impairments.  As they become aware of these impairments they become fearful of not returning to who they were and the possibility of never functioning normally again.  If someone asks why they cannot find something of theirs, a typical reaction would be to blow up.  They get defensive right away.  It is a reminder to them of how their life has changed.  Now someone is confronting them with it and looking for an answer.  They don’t want to face the reality of their brain injury, so it gets turned around- “What’s the big deal?  Why are you always picking on me?  Leave me alone.” 

–          Prepared by Bhyju cmf