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The Benefits of Emotional Awareness

How does insight into our emotions help us?

My research has shown that people would like to be able to choose what they become emotional about and how they behave when they are emotional. But we don't really have that choice. The key to both is having better awareness. Usually we are not aware that we are emotional until afterwards, when we say something like, “Oh, I lost my head.” Well, you didn't lose your head; you just lost your awareness of what you were feeling at the moment. It is in the nature of emotions, I believe, that you shouldn't have that choice. Your emotions should be running this show, not the rational decision-making part of you. These days, the dangerous predator for most of us is the drunk driver. You wouldn't survive riding on the freeway if your emotions weren’t able to take over and make decisions for you. We have a mechanism that appraises what’s going on very quickly, senses danger and responds without thought. And it saves our lives. But it also means that we sometimes react quite inappropriately. Like when there really is no danger and the response we give isn’t the right response.

Why do we need emotions?

It would be very dangerous if we didn't have emotions. It would also be a very dull life. Because, basically, our emotions drive us — excitement, pleasure, even anger. Anger can be a force for social justice. It can motivate us to try and change the environment, because what we see is what we think is wrong. So emotions are fundamentally constructive, not destructive. However, in particular instances they can also be destructive, like when what we learned in the course of growing up becomes not very adaptive for our current environment.

How can we have choices about our emotional behavior?

Our emotions have a dual influence. They are influenced by what has been adaptive for our species and by what has been adaptive in the course of our upbringing. If you want to have a choice about what to become emotional about, it would be very hard to override those things that are a result of the evolution of a species. You may be able to learn to override some things that have to do with your individual development and growth. Freudwas right: The things that you learn early about your emotions, even if they no longer fit your current environment, still have a large influence on you. The key to having choice about your emotional behavior is to be aware of the fact that you are becoming emotional. Until you become aware, you aren’t acting with any choice guiding your behavior. That’s what we would like to be able to do. But that’s what our emotions would like us not to be able to do.

Read more here.

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