Emotions play an important role in our lives and are essential to survival. They communicate important information about our environment and help motivate us to respond in certain ways. Put simply, when we experience nice things, we generally feel good. When we experience not so nice things, we generally feel bad. Feeling the full range of emotions is part of living a rich and meaningful life.
Our initial response to an event or stimulus is called a primary emotion (e.g., you remember losing a friend and feel sad). Secondary emotions, on the other hand, are the reactions we have to our primary emotions (e.g., you get frustrated at yourself for feeling sad). We can have several secondary emotions in response to our initial reaction, which in some cases, can prolong emotional pain and suffering.
Our emotions have the following functions:
- They motivate us to behave in certain ways – that is, they prepare us for action, help us respond to protect ourselves from harm, and help us overcome barriers to our goals (e.g., feeling afraid activates our fear response and motivates us to escape or avoid a dangerous situation)
- They connect us and communicate information to others – that is, emotions are communicated through body language, facial expressions, and voice tone, which ultimately tells people how we feel and influences how they act towards us (e.g., when we feel anxious, others might notice our nervous body language and provide reassurance)
They communicate information to ourselves – they tell us things about a situation, send the alarm when threats are present, and give information about our likes, interests, and dislikes. This might be in the form of ‘intuition’ or a ‘gut feeling’ (e.g., we notice a sinking feeling in our stomach when we realise that we are in an unsafe part of town). However, it is important to remember that emotions are not facts.