Emotion: Exploring Attitudes and Beliefs 5


EMOTIONS are an essential part of our lives. If you don’t think that’s true, just ask yourself the question: who would want to go through life without joy?  In many cultures however, we are taught to value dispassionate logic over matters of the heart. Science and “objective” forms of thinking are touted as the sure path to knowledge. And someone who is openly emotional is said—with some disdain—to wear his heart on his sleeve. Men, in particular, are taught to suppress emotions as the inferior domain of women, and even women are often told that they are over emotional when they express their feelings. Given this cultural environment, it’s only natural that many of us have learned to deny and suppress our emotions, especially those that are considered negative, such as anger and grief.

The word emotion is based on the Latin word emovere, which essentially means to move (movere) out (e), which implies that, by its very nature, emotion must move through the body and out.

Most theories about emotion acknowledge that emotions are either based on physical responses (i.e. a flood of adrenaline produces fear), or are the cause of physical responses (i.e., fear produces a flood of adrenaline). Whichever theory you hold to be true, one thing is clear: emotions and physical responses and behaviors are closely linked. When we experience strong emotion such as anger, fear, excitement, or elation, chemicals flood our body, our pulse quickens, and we may perspire or tremble. We are filled with the energy of that emotion.

It is also clear that when we suppress our emotions because we think they are unacceptable, and when we do not allow them some form of healthy expression, the energy of those emotions literally becomes bottled up in our bodies, which may cause physical, emotional, and/or psychological health problems later on. So it’s important to learn how to process and express our emotions in ways that improve, rather than threaten our overall health.

Writing (journaling) about our emotions is one healthy — and therapeutic — way of moving emotions through our bodies. Through writing, we can explore the depth and strength of our emotions, their reasons, and find ways to work through and heal them. We can, quite literally, write our way to healing. It also allows us to express in words (privately) what may be difficult to say aloud to someone else. Writing can also help you to explore other perspectives of an incident and achieve a more balanced perspective.

In this series of articles about emotion, we will take a look at specific emotions, how they affect us, and how to write our ways through them. But before before beginning to write about individual emotions, it can be helpful to explore our attitudes and beliefs about emotion, in general.

Take out your notebook, journal, or computer writing program, select one or more of the following prompts, and write for at least ten minutes.

  1. When I cried as a child, I was told …
  2. I believe that emotions should/should not be expressed freely by both men and women, because …
  3. My father used to express his emotions by …
  4. I believe that it is better to not express certain emotions, such as __________________, because …
  5. I express my emotions freely and healthily. I know this to be true because …
  6. If there is one thing I could improve or heal, emotionally speaking, it would be ______________. The thing that has been holding me back from addressing this issue is …

When you have finished writing, assess how you feel (relieved? calm? agitated? curious?) and write a paragraph or two about your present feeling and state of mind.

Finally, share in the discussion by leaving comments about this process of exploring your attitudes and beliefs about emotion. Don’t share your personal journal writing, but share with us how writing about your attitudes affected you. What did you discover, if anything? Did you find any new, related topics to write about?


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