Our Brains: Wired to Feel Bad
Why do we feel bad so often? It certainly seems that there are many more emotions that people don’t want to feel – anger, sadness, fear, shame, guilt, disgust – than there are ones we would like to feel – enjoyment, excitement. Why is this?
The social function of emotions
Although we can’t really know the absolute answer to this, it seems that our emotions have at least two important social functions. The first of these is to act as a signal to other people. For instance when we are fearful, people can see that we are afraid which gives them impetus to hurriedly look for sources of danger to themselves. When we feel distressed, people can see it and they can offer their support to us, without us having to ask for it. And when we feel anger, people know to keep their distance from us just from the look on our face.
In this way, our emotions function as a very efficient signaling mechanism that we don't have to consciously deploy.
However, anthropologists and social psychologists suggest that these so-called negative emotions might have an additional function. They postulate that these emotions can function as ‘signs of moral discontent, signifying a desire to change the situation, the self, or both’. In this way, and our emotions function as symbols to us that we are discontented and would like to see change to the situation, and give us the motivation to make this change. In this way, they are a driver of cultural development.
Moderating your emotions
This isn't to say that all undesirable feelings bring positive results. In many cases, they can be a source of absolute misery for us. However, part of the role of a psychotherapist is to help people moderate their emotions and therefore be better able to tolerate them when they come, as they inevitably must.
Reference: White, Geoffrey ‘Affecting Culture: Emotion And Morality In Everyday Life’ in ‘ Emotion And Culture: Empirical Studies Of Mutual Influence’ (edited by S. Kitayama and H. R. Markus) American Psychological Association, Washington, DC
– Tim Hill
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