What exactly are emotions?

Emotions. We all have them, but what exactly are they? Emotions can be both positive and negative, sometimes it’s possible to experience more than one at the same time. Most commonly, we can experience sadness and anger together. Have you ever felt really angry, but sad at the same time? It may be difficult to process both emotions and give a priority to one over the other. No wonder it is a common experience to feel confusion surrounding our emotions.

What is the science behind emotions? Thoughts and emotions are controlled by different parts of the brain. Thoughts are how the brain cognitively process, whereas emotions are released by the brains limbic system. This also controls the body’s immune system and most of the body’s major organs. This gives some insight into why our emotions affect our body. Have you ever had “butterflies” in your tummy when feeling nervous? This is the limbic system in action.

The idea that emotions have an impact on the body is sometimes viewed controversially. Thoughts such as “are you saying it’s all in my head?” can often arise when talking about this mind body link. In my opinion, the physical symptoms are very real and therefore not “in your head”. This doesn’t mean the body doesn’t react to emotions, which may impact upon the physical issue.

Part of being human is to experience things differently to one another. It’s possible for two people to feel very different emotions about the same situation, which is why it is impossible to know “exactly” how someone is feeling. This is particularly difficult surrounding complex and emotionally inductive situations. Imagine feeling happy when others feel deeply sad? It may be difficult to share your difference in opinion. Or maybe sharing your different opinions and differing emotions has caused upset.

How can counselling help with emotions? When thinking about emotions in context of counselling, I am aware as a therapist, I can be aware of the science behind emotions, yet the science doesn’t tell me about the individual experience of what it is like to experience emotions. Counselling offers a space to explore emotions further and help process the individual experience of having emotions, from identifying what they are, to exploring why. Essentially within counselling, I aim to explore the meaning behind an experience, part of this is looking at the emotional response.  

It is important to remember emotions are normal. Counselling may be helpful if emotions are causing distress. This could be feeling overwhelmed or noticing that emotions are felt to the extreme. Having said that, in some cases, emotions are difficult to experience, leaving a feeling of being “numb”. It would be equally valid to seek help for this experience. Counselling offers a safe space to explore emotions freely, without judgement. I aim to truly listen to your experience.

If you want to know more about emotions and how counselling may be able to help you, please do get in touch and I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.