How well do you really know your own emotions? Can you accurately describe when you are feeling depressed? Anxious? Overjoyed? What about some of the reasons you might be feeling this way?
It’s okay if you’re unsure. Most people are relatively unfamiliar with their emotions. In our emotion-phobic culture, we are often taught how to avoid our feelings instead of how to address them. What’s more, we are told we are supposed to have total influence over our emotions when the science says that emotions are driven by a whole host of non-conscious physiological forces.
Control your emotions! Emotions are for weak people. Get over it!
Simply learning a bit about emotions can make people feel much more comfortable with them. After all, no one teaches us the difference between categories of emotions. For example, core emotions, like anger, sadness, fear, disgust, joy, excitement, anxiety, guilt, and shame are not dictated purely by cognate processes but by physiological responses to environmental stimuli.
This is why emotion researchers consider the body central to the construction of the modern self. Interpretive theorist Paul Ricoeur (1992), for example, remarks that while personal identity is often perceived differently across time, the body is a resilient part of us and thus reflects a strong link to a deeper notion of identity or self.
According to Ricoeur, as well as a whole host of thinkers at the intersections of phenomenology and cognitive psychology, understanding the body is essential to understanding how we feel. Yet thanks to the problem of emotional self-alienation, getting to know one’s own body is rarely a simple task.
As philosopher Thomas Szanto (2017) points out, we are estranged from our own emotions to the extent by which we feel out of sync from the rhythms of our body. Such alienation extends into our relationships with others and society as a whole — this aggregates as experiences of burnout at work and a lot of excess psychological stress.
According to William James (1890:450), the founder of American psychology, your emotions are completely governed by your body’s responses. In essence, your body is your emotions.
Imagine you’re being pursued by a wasp. If you’re like most of us, fear and panic will take over your entire being, causing your heart to race, palms to sweat, and stomach to turn over. James highlighted these responses of your autonomic nervous system with the actual emotion of fear.
Read the conclusion of this post and much more on our Medium page.