Anger Management: Why We Have Emotions

Think of your emotions, like your senses, as a means by which you get information from the world.  Emotions provide further information about the environment and your relationship to it.  Emotions such as fear and anger are necessary for basic survival.  For example, anger warns you of a possible threat and prepares you to take action against that threat.  Fear also warns you about a threat, but prepares you to flee.  When you are sad, it means that there is something missing from your life, and you are drawn to others to comfort you.  When you are generally happy around a particular individual, you probably will want to spend more time with them, knowing that your love and belonging needs are being met. Denying or ignoring one’s emotions is as foolish as deliberately blinding oneself or puncturing your ear drums.

Based on laboratory studies and field research with many cultures around the world, the anthropologist Paul Eckman determined that there are six primary human emotions, which are hard-wired and available from birth.  These are:  Anger, Fear, Sadness, Joy, Surprise, and Disgust.  Different cultures have different rules about how emotions ought to be expressed. For example, people in Northern Europe are more reserved compared to people from Southern Europe.  However, facial expressions for each emotion are the same across cultures.  A person who is angry, for example, will exhibit lowered and furrowed eyebrows, glaring eyes and tightly-clenched jaw.  Even when people are consciously trying to disguise their feelings, their face will show at least some signs of the emotion.

In addition to the six primary emotions, humans also experience what have been called “social” emotions, necessary for meeting social demands and expectations.  The major social emotions are:  shame, guilt, jealousy, embarrassment and pride.

Some emotions, like jealousy and anger, are very powerful and can be misused.  When you feel a strong emotion, you tend to go with it because you learned to “trust your gut.”  However, emotions are only as accurate as their wiring in your brain.  Abuse, trauma, and other experiences can result in distorted emotions that can’t always be trusted.

Furthermore, for most individuals, especially men, experiencing and expressing emotions can make them feel vulnerable.  Anger can make you feel temporarily powerful, which is why it can take over and mask other emotions.  But expressing vulnerable feelings can be very useful.  When loved ones do things you don’t like, expressing feelings such as disappointment, hurt, betrayal, or embarrassment will cause them to feel guilty and to change their behavior because they want to.  Expressing only anger may cause them to stop listening or comply out of fear.