What are Emotions? How to Control Emotions and Feelings | 8 Basic Emotions

What are Emotions? and How to Control Emotions and Feelings? Your emotions give you important signals about both yourself and your environment. The more you know about your emotions, the easier it’ll be for you to decide whether you should act on emotion or not.

What are Emotions?

You were born with emotions and the ability to feel. This ability has increased our chances of survival. A baby can scream out of anger when it’s hungry; or smile at its parent, which reinforces the parent’s joy and desire to care for the child. 

You’re also born with an ability to interpret other people’s facial expressions and body language. Through your emotions, you’re communicating with others.

Emotions are signals from the body that motivate you to do something. In addition, they enhance your experiences. One example is public speaking. 

This can be a positive experience if you get applause and appreciation afterward – you’ll probably want to do it again. If instead you get scared performing your speech, you’ll probably want to avoid it in the future.

If you’ve already studied behavioral analysis, this will all feel familiar. If not, you can read more about behavior analysis in this article “Understand human behavior.” 

A consequence of a behavior often involves some kind of emotion, and the emotion reinforces the consequence.

Emotions can be activated by both outer and inner events. An inner event is something that happens in your body, such as a thought or blushing. An outer event could be that you meet someone you know. 

Emotions are important signals that you need to care about because they give you information about yourself and the environment you are in. However, you must not always follow or act on the emotion at hand.

If your emotions are preventing you from doing what you really want, you can relearn this behavior. You can change what you’ve learned to feel shameful about or what you’re afraid of. 

You can learn to feel proud, rather than shameful, to feel the joy of a relationship instead of being anxious or to be interested in an assignment rather than irritated by it. 

As in the example above, a person that previously found public speaking uncomfortable can later find it absolutely fine if they have learned that the consequences afterward are positive instead of negative.

If my emotion prevents me from doing what I really want, I can relearn that emotion.

Depending on how you handle your emotions, they can either help you or ruin things for you. Anger is a typical example. 

Anger can be a way to set boundaries but can also lead to violence and making others afraid of you.

What are Emotions
What are Emotions

Types of Emotions in Psychology 

If you were to ask people on the street to list the emotions that exist, you would likely get many different answers.

Academically, it is generally agreed that there are about 8 distinct basic emotions, and then every other emotion is made from combinations of these basic emotions. What the basic emotions have in common that they have specific facial expressions associated with them, that look the same, no matter where in the world you are. The basic emotions are interest, joy, anger, sadness, surprise, fear, shame, and disgust. Below, you will find the eight basic emotions, their functions, and which impulse you get from each emotion.

  • Interest/curiosity makes you look for information and enjoyment. The impulse you get is to approach, try new things, and explore.
  • Joy increases pleasure. The impulse you get is to stick around and continue.
  • Anger makes you defend yourself. The impulse you get is to fight.
  • Sadness makes you re-evaluate what life is about. The impulse you get is to be passive, to cry, and ponder.
  • Surprise makes you stop and reconsider. The impulse you get is to stop and think.
  • Fear makes you avoid danger and offer protection. The impulse you get is to escape and avoid the danger.
  • Shame/guilt makes you follow rules, morals, and ethics. The impulse you get is to cancel everything and just hide.
  • Disgust protects you from taking poison. The impulse you get is to throw up, get rid of the toxic, and to spit. If you were to ask people on the street to list the emotions that exist, you would likely get many different answers.

After The Emotion Comes An Emotion

How to Control Emotions and Feelings
How to Control Emotions and Feelings

During an emotion, you may react with yet another emotion. The second is called a secondary emotion.

You may feel shame when you are afraid, you experience surprise at being happy, and get angry when you’re actually sad.

To let yourself be guided by the secondary emotion makes it harder to know what you really want, what you need, and what others can do for you.

If you scold someone even though you are sad, you’ll not get what you need most: namely, support or consolation.

Analyze When You Experience An Emotion

If you haven’t already done so, we strongly recommend that you read about behavioral analysis in the article: “Understand human behavior.”

Can you really do a behavioral analysis of an emotion? Emotion is not a behavior, you do not do happiness – you are happy!

This is quite correct, but it can still be constructive to make a behavior analysis of an emotion.

The purpose is the same here as in a normal behavioral analysis, namely, to pay attention to in which situations you get the emotion, what the short- and long-term consequences will be, and what alternative outcomes an alternative emotion in these situations could have provided – alternatives that are in line with your goals!

When I do a behavioral analysis of emotion I know more about in which situations I get the emotion and what the short- and long-term consequences are. I can even understand what consequences a different emotion had given.

It gets extra interesting if you reflect a bit more on the difference between short- and long-term consequences.

Let’s illustrate this with an example. Imagine that you’re someone who often gets irritated and a little angry when you’re in a store and find that you’ve chosen the “wrong queue” and those in front of you seem to move and act extra slowly just to annoy you even more.

Are you there now? Good, then we continue.

What are the likely short-term consequences here? You feel even more stressed, snap a little at the teller and leave the shop with an irritated feeling? Most likely.

While these negative short-term consequences present themselves, it’s also likely that you feel that you’ve been a bit more time-efficient being annoyed in the queue, you’re certainly not one of those slow ones who worms in-store queues!

So there are both positive (“I’m time-efficient”) and negative (stressed, irritated) short-term consequences, i.e., both rewards and punishments.

There are usually (or have existed earlier in your life) positive short-term consequences with this behavior, otherwise, you’d probably not have continued with it.

There is almost always, or has existed, short-term rewards associated with a recurrent behavior – otherwise, I would not have kept it up! Although the reward may seem to be very small!

What long term consequences can you imagine there are from being irritated in the store queue?

It’s difficult to find any positive consequences (rewards) in the long term, but you could probably imagine that a long-term punishment is that you’re a bit more irritable during the rest of the day – which can rub off on others around you which might strike back on yourself at a later time.

Furthermore, you can probably imagine that you (if you are often irritable, for various reasons) are living a more stressful life – which increases the risk of e.g. cardiovascular diseases.

But don’t worry. This was just an example, but it may be worthwhile to pause and think about what your every day looks like.

Are you often stressed? Does it make you irritable? Join one of our courses in stress management, to get the tools to manage stress and unnecessary frustration caused by emotions.

Summary: What Are Emotions? How to Control Emotions and Feelings

Emotions have arisen as a survival mechanism and a way for us to communicate.

An emotion is activated by either:

  • an inner event (something in the body) or
  • an outer event.

Purposes of emotions:

  • motivates you to act
  • reinforces your experiences

Emotions are learned behaviors

  • This means that you can also relearn the emotion. You can then, for example, learn to associate a situation that you have experienced with a new emotion.

Basic Emotions

  • 8 different basic emotions
  • Interest, joy, anger, sadness, surprise, fear, shame, disgust
  • The same facial expression anywhere in the world
  • All basic emotions have a function and an impulse linked to it – knowing the features and impulses of the basic emotions will help you understand yourself better. 

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