An ever-present conundrum of human nature is our lack of understanding of why we do what we do. Even more so, we scratch our heads in bewilderment in trying to figure out why others do what they do. Recent research has shown us that understanding human emotion is mandatory if we are to begin to unravel some of human nature’s mysteries.
By nature, human beings are first and foremost emotional creatures. We are motivated and activated by emotions. Emotions are the drivers of our behaviours as they automatically tell us what is important or unimportant. Our value system is made up of a hierarchy of emotionally created sensations that rank what is important to us.
Emotions drive us and lead us both consciously and unconsciously. Research is showing us that our emotions are instinctual in nature and are encoded within our genes. This bit of information is critically important to understand as it holds the key to unlocking some of human nature’s mysteries.
We are guided and controlled by our emotions as exemplified with the “fight or flight” response that we are all aware of. We feel physical sensations, both positive and negative because of certain chemicals that are automatically released due to external and internal stimuli.
There are some specific hormones that greatly affect human emotions. These hormones include estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, norepinephrine and epinephrine, serotonin, GABA, dopamine, acetylcholine, and oxytocin. Our thoughts and our feelings are highly influenced by the emotions produced by these hormones.
Our everyday habits, routines, rituals, attitudes, and perceptions are all influenced by our emotions. So much so that we don’t realise that we are programmed by them. The concept of free will can come into question with our preferences built-in to our being.
Our preferences are instrumental in creating who we are and what we want. Are we really making choices or are we just expressing what is already inside us? This is a great question to ponder.
When we become overwhelmed with an emotion, it seems to take over our perception and awareness of life at that moment. When we become overtaken by the emotion, our present moment experience is seen through the lens of the emotion. If we are overwhelmed with happiness, sadness, fear, disgust, or any other emotion, we are hard pressed to think or feel anything else.
But emotions can also be fleeting in nature and we can be confused about how we could feel like we did. Wilhelm Wundt, the father of experimental psychology, said that feelings or emotions lack clearness because if we focus on them to determine clearness, the feeling or emotion disappears.
One concept need to be cleaned up here and that is the difference between feelings and emotions. It is difficult to find information that clearly states the distinction. We sometimes interchange these two and lump them both into the same category. But they are very different and learning about them helps us to learn about ourselves.
Feelings are subjective and unique to the individual based upon what has happened in their life. Feelings are based upon our senses and have a direct connection to our egos. Our sense of self is based upon our mental conversation that we have created about our self. This internal conversation is based upon our life experiences and how we have interpreted them. Feelings can come and go based upon the acquisition of new information which can alter our opinions and perceptions.
The connection of feelings to our ego is readily recognised with people who have their feelings hurt easily. People who wear their heart on their sleeves readily show their feelings. When people get their feelings hurt by others, it may show an insecurity and vulnerability of their self-esteem. There may be an underlying emotional issue that needs to be addressed.
Just remember that emotions are built-in instinctual responses and feelings are a mental interpretation to life events from the past. Feelings and emotions are highly intertwined and this is why they are difficult to distinguish.
As much as we may try, we cannot escape our emotions. We can try to suppress our emotions or subconsciously repress them. Commonly repressed emotions are anger, sadness, guilt, shame, and grief. We are most fearful of these emotions because of how we they will affect us and those around us.
These fears and judgments about our emotions interfere with releasing them. When these emotions are not released in a healthy way, they can take a toll on our mental and physical health. They may end up getting released by venting to other people in inappropriate ways, taking a toll on our relationships.
Some experts believe that most mental health issues are actually emotional health issues. Suppressing and repressing emotions may be a larger component of mental health issues than we presently know. A better understanding of our emotions will surely help us live a healthier and happier life. A problem, any problem, cannot be solved or reduced until its cause is understood. We need to break through our present day commotion of our emotions in order to better understand and appreciate the true nature of being human.
Scott Trettenero’s recent book, Master the Mystery of Human Nature: Resolving the Conflict of Opposing Values helps readers learn about themselves, others and how the world works because of our differences. Scott has maintained a solo dental practice in Southwest Florida since 1981. His research on quality service in dentistry and his interest in human temperaments formed the basis for his first book, Unlocking the T-Code. He is married and has two children. You can follow him on Twitter @