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Understanding Our Emotions

Emotions can feel difficult to acknowledge and sometimes even difficult to understand. It can even be hard to identify all of the different emotions that exist. All humans are hardwired with the capability to feel emotions and the basic ones are: Happy, Sad, Anger, Surprise, Disgust, Scared, Guilt and Curiosity. We can also experience secondary emotions which is an emotional reaction to an emotion i.e. anxiety, nervous, embarrassed. These secondary feelings can often overshadow basic emotion and cloud our judgment on how to proceed. When experiencing a secondary emotion, it is helpful to break down what you are feeling to be able to identify what the primary emotion might be. 

Example of secondary emotions clouding primary emotions: You have spent the whole day cleaning your house and your family comes home and immediately makes messes everywhere. You worked really hard on this and were proud of the progress you made- now you’re frustrated. Frustration is the secondary emotion but the primary emotion could be sad or mad because it didn’t seem that they cared about your hard work.

what is the purpose of each primary emotion?

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Happy helps us to learn about who we are and what we like. Happiness can create gratitude which is very positive for our systems. Happy also keeps us engaged in things that we like and can build connections with others.

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Like happy, sad helps us to understand things about ourselves and what we dislike. Sad can also make us uncomfortable because it doesn’t always feel good and we may even try to avoid it. Sadness can help us to develop sympathy for others who feel sadness as we know what it feels like and potentially want to support.

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Anger is a big emotion, sometimes with a lot of force behind it. Anger is helpful and necessary to create motivation to advocate for ourselves and others, identify injustices and move forward in life. Anger is necessary but can be problematic if we allow it to take over in physical/emotional ways that could potentially harm others.

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Surprise can feel fun but can also be a nice survival tactic to keep us aware of our surroundings. This doesn’t always mean it is a bad surprise, but it keeps us alert and conscious of our surroundings.

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Disgust is often used for safety- both physically and emotionally. When we taste something disgusting, this can prevent us from having it again in the future or potentially protect us from harmful things that we should not be ingesting. If we feel disgust emotionally, this will give off signals in our brain to create boundaries to prevent from feeling that disgust again.

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Scared protects us physically and emotionally. Scared also allows us to better understand our environments and create awareness to keep us safe. If I feel scared on my walks alone at night, I will typically find a different time to walk or find ways to feel safe during my night walk.

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Guilt is something that doesn’t feel good and that we tend to avoid. Guilt, although doesn’t feel good, can be helpful to us and our relationships. If we are able to acknowledge the feeling of guilt, it can be a catalyst for behavior change and preserve relationships or behaviors within ourselves. Without allowing the vulnerability of guilt, we could continue to make negative choices over and over again.

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Curiosity is crucial for our development and progress. As babies, if we are not curious, we don’t explore and learn. The feeling of curiosity continues to develop throughout our lives and allows us to gain interest in different avenues which can lead to future successes and discoveries.

Although some emotions can feel scary and vulnerable, others can be exciting and fun- but they are all necessary for our survival. Emotions, both primary and secondary, serve an important role and help develop us as people every day. The more that we are able to understand our emotions, the better we will be at coping with them and using them to our advantage.

Meet The Author

Amanda Spirek, Clinical Therapist at Sea Glass Mental Health



Meet The Author

Amanda is a Clinical Therapist at Sea Glass Mental Health. She works with adult populations and specializes in life transitions, anxiety, depression, infertility/peripartum/postpartum issues and EMDR.  

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