What are emotions, really?
We have a general idea of what emotions are because we can name them easily. We can say we are ‘happy’ or ‘sad’ or ‘fearful’ or ‘excited’ because we have learned these words since we were young. But truly understanding an emotion can be tricky, especially when you have to explain it.
Every emotion has four components. Let’s see what they are.
Something has to trigger an emotion. It can be anything at all. Usually, emotions come from external sources, but they can also come from your own thoughts. You never know what might spark an emotion – a smell, a taste, a memory, a person, a place, or even an activity you’re doing can cause emotions. Even babies have emotions from simple things like being hungry, uncomfortable, amused, or even by the smell or sound of their caregiver.
You need to notice the stimulus for an emotion to happen. This can be conscious or unconscious. You start paying attention, and this stimulus becomes important to you in a way that other things around you are not.
How do you feel about the stimulus? Your unconscious self already has preferences and dislikes and is already guiding you toward either a positive or negative emotional response.
Your body is already sensing the situation and is responding. For example, you might not have seen the spider that just crawled over your hand, but your eyes have widened a lot, and you might have felt a shiver. This is followed by the physical reaction (in this case, pulling your hand away) and maybe even a verbal expression (a scream, maybe, if you’re scared of spiders).
Why is this important?
If you want to change your emotions, start with these components. You can’t avoid the stimulus, and your awareness of things is not always under your control. But you can change how you feel about the stimulus. Go back to the spider example. If you don’t want to be scared of spiders, you might practice a different reaction, starting with a new judgement. You tell yourself spiders are not scary and try not to react when you see one. Eventually, you won’t feel the ‘fear’ anymore but might move to indifference or even curiosity when you see a spider.
This takes time, but taking control of your emotions is very valuable. The key? Be consistent as you work on this change; soon, it will become natural.