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What are emotions?


Emotions are an intrinsic response that all human beings have, in principle, by way of survival. Basic emotions are adaptive and serve for our body to offer a response to the environment in which we find ourselves.

Emotion, although it is a subjective reaction to the environment, is accompanied by a series of physiological and endocrine changes in our body. We say that it is subjective since each person in the face of the same environmental circumstance will respond differently, and even with another type of emotion. Although there are common situations in which our brain automatically responds with the same emotion, such as fear. Real dangerous situations in which our life is threatened.

In our culture, until recently, emotional responses were underestimated . Considered in some cases as a sign of weakness and fragility of the individual himself. They have tried to cover up in many ways: repressing them, deceiving themselves, and trying to avoid them at all costs. It has been proven that hiding emotions has consequences that harm us all, in one way or another …

Our emotional world is conditioned by our experiences and the learning that we have acquired throughout life. We could say that as we develop emotions are transforming and increasing in complexity. The regulation of emotions and emotional management is something basic, fundamental and necessary ; both for our self-knowledge and our personal development.

We will see below in greater depth what emotions consist of, how they determine and influence us, and what are the basic aspects that we must attend to so that they do not govern our lives . The important thing in any case is that we make emotions our allies and not our enemies, since they are inexorably part of us.

What does science say about emotions?

Body map of emotions

New research has declared that there are actually 4 basic emotions and not six as previously believed. This was believed due to the first studies on emotions carried out by the American psychologist Paul Ekman . Who discovered these six world-known emotions through facial expressions. Being independent of culture or personal condition. The emotions that this author declared as basic were the following: sadness, fear, happiness, anger, disgust and surprise.

A recent study on basic emotions was carried out by researchers at Glasgow University, UK; where a new paradigm shift occurred. Concluding the study that the basic emotions were 4 and not six as had been believed until now after the investigations of Paul Ekman. These results were obtained after observing different facial muscles in a heterogeneous group of people. These facial muscles that all people have in common were called “Units of action”, being involved in signaling various emotions. Depending on the time of contraction and relaxation of each facial muscle.

The current conclusion is that while the emotional expressions of happiness and joy are clearly different, the emotions of fear and surprise share a common gesture such as open eyes. Like anger and disgust they share a wrinkled nose. Therefore, we would be talking about basic emotions exclusively of sadness, joy, anger and fear .

The adaptive function of emotions

One of the fundamental characteristics of emotion is that it appears immediately, suddenly and abruptly. It is a complex set of chemical and neural responses that form distinctive patterns, depending on the emotion. Certain stimuli, whether real or mentally recalled, provoke an emotion in us with their automatic responses. The emotions considered as primary come from the innate mechanisms of our brain, while the secondary emotions, rather represent a behavioral repertoire learned throughout our lives.

Emotions appear at a certain moment in a more or less intense and immediate way. It could be said that they send us a message giving us information about what is happening in our environment , so that we pay attention. What happens when we insist on avoiding emotions? As we have said before, they are adaptive and are showing us something important, they do not appear on a whim or to annoy us. Therefore, the most convenient thing in any case is to attend to the emotional response.

An emotional response may be telling us a number of important questions . For example, when fear appears, it means that we must pay special attention to danger, trying to use all the resources we have, either to flee or face it. If after a significant loss, such as grief, sadness invades us, feeling it is the most convenient thing to do. Sadness helps us reflection, inquiry and introspection, points out important issues that help us better understand ourselves.

Any emotion, whether primary, or secondary, such as envy, jealousy and guilt, are very valuable signals , each one of them alerting us to a particular problem that is occurring. Their function is to refer us to that problem.

We manage our emotions well when we are willing to listen to them and take advantage of them . Thus learning that each specific problem of ours is associated with some emotion. Emotion is capable of detecting problems so that we learn from them . Unlike what has been culturally thought, emotion does not represent the problem, but is the path that solves the problem detected. Knowing this, it does not make sense that we avoid or repress them, do not you think?

What happens when we repress and don’t pay attention to our emotions?

Emotions have been undervalued for too long. We have believed that they were unimportant and a sign of weakness. We have been confused and disoriented by not knowing what to do with them . This is due to the great importance that has been given to our rationality.

Through reason we have tried to hide many of the emotions that bother us, such as the so-called “negative emotions”. Many of them also suppose an affective state, which indicate personal states, desires and motivations. Instead of learning to know ourselves, listening to our emotions. We have fought against them, with the intention that they do not appear. But that, we know that there is no point in trying to suppress or hide them, since that fight against ourselves causes those emotions to transform into feelings of discomfort, emotional pain and suffering .

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Today there is a lot of emphasis on managing emotions , as we have a greater understanding of what they involve. Difficulties in emotional management are linked to stress , anxiety, and various psychological problems such as depression and anxiety disorders. In addition to psychosomatic diseases that weaken our immune system seriously affecting our health.

We have not had an emotional education , so we have not known how to react to them. We have interpreted them as an enemy, when emotions arise to alert and guide us. It is difficult for us to differentiate, attend to and identify them. This is why a multitude of books about emotions have emerged today. Also in schools and in education, emotional education programs have been launched …

Primary emotions and secondary emotions

Primary emotions

Primary emotions are innate and since we are born they are present, they appear in our first years of life, and they develop and become more complex as we manifest them through language, facial expressions, using signs, symbols and through contribution of meanings.

Each person experiences their emotions in a particular way. Since it depends on your previous experiences, the learnings you have made, your character and specific situations. What is characteristic for all of us is that basic emotions are accompanied by specific physiological reactions . While the secondary ones have been acquired reactions.

Among the primary emotional responses, we highlight the 4 that we have commented previously, which have been cataloged today as the basic emotions and therefore innate in every human being :

  • Fear: this emotion appears as a sign of anticipation of a threat or danger. It produces anxiety, uncertainty and insecurity. It provides us with characteristic signals to understand that we must be alert to the situation that we find ourselves . “Fear is a very valuable signal that indicates a disproportion between the threat we face and the resources we have to solve it. However, our confusion and ignorance have turned it into a ‘negative emotion’ that must be eliminated. ”
    (Norberto Levy)
  • Joy: produces euphoria, a feeling of well-being and security. This is without a doubt the most accepted emotion. It appears before circumstances in which we can be at peace, happy and comfortable. It invites us to repeat those circumstances in which we feel good .
  • Sadness: it leads us towards grief, loneliness and introspection. Under this state arises the new possibility of a new personal reintegration . We question the way of seeing things and living them, to acquire new values ​​and learnings.
  • Anger – comes through anger , fury, irritability, impatience, outrage, and resentment. It indicates something that causes us discomfort. Anger is an intermediate form between anger and hatred. It is a sign that there is something that we have not resolved about ourselves, that generates that discomfort in a certain situation, appearing intensely through anger.

These basic emotions have particular behavioral components . We display them externally differently depending on various factors. We can, to some extent, control its intensity, based on our family and group learning in relation to our culture. Emotions are reflected through: facial expressions, distance or approach, actions and gestures, non-verbal communication.

The other components to how emotions are expressed would be physiological and therefore involuntary . They manifest in the following ways: blushing, tremors, sweating, increased heart rate, pupillary dilation, and rapid breathing.

Secondary emotions

The secondary emotions, unlike the primary ones, are not innate and are not about emotions that are related to our survival. These types of emotions have been learned in relation to the environment and culture in which we have developed. They have to do with what we have learned and how we perceive each situation. They therefore have a clearly cultural and personal component .

Among the secondary emotions we could highlight some that we all know, such as envy, shame, guilt and jealousy. They are more complex emotions and therefore require certain cognitive development. They are also known as “social emotions” , since they arise above all in the context of relationships with other people. They are also highly influenced by the socialization process, which is why they can be different depending on the culture.

Among its characteristics we highlight the following:

  • They have a great influence on the self-esteem and self-concept of the person who manifests them.
  • They are closely influenced by prevailing social norms, culture, and context.
  • They arose through the first human representations, as soon as the human being became aware of himself.
  • They serve for the construction of personal identity and are a great source of self-knowledge.

As we can see, secondary emotions are also useful and it is important that we pay attention to them, since they provide us with a lot of information about ourselves . They are like a kind of internal wisdom, to which it is convenient to listen and attend. We may not understand many of our reactions and find them unpleasant. However, they are part of who we ourselves are and help us understand ourselves better.

Ultimately, both in primary and secondary emotions, it is important to let them appear , to be able to listen and attend to them. By trying to hide and avoid them, we are, on many occasions, giving them a power over us by amplifying their intensity. Our health deteriorates when we do not do good emotional management , just as our personal relationships are conditioned and affected.

Do not be a slave to your emotions, learn and ally with them to take full advantage of your inner wisdom


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Hello Readers, I am Nikki Bella a Psychology student. I have always been concerned about human behavior and the mental processes that lead us to act and think the way we do. My collaboration as an editor in the psychology area of ​​Well Being Pole has allowed me to investigate further and expand my knowledge in the field of mental health; I have also acquired great knowledge about physical health and well-being, two fundamental bases that are directly related and are part of all mental health.

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