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The Importance of Emotions

Most people who go to therapy know that their therapist, at some point, is going to encourage them to work on changing their relationship with their emotions. There are a lot of reasons for this, but it is helpful if we start with an understanding of why emotions are important in the first place. Often, clients come to therapy with a lot of unhelpful beliefs about what they feel. They believe that emotions make them weak, make their thoughts or beliefs less valid and others find emotions to be frightening or even dangerous.

Therapists challenge clients to change this perspective, because we know that emotions are actually an important part of the human experience. Not only do they lead to deeper relationships and increased overall life enjoyment, but they also protect us from danger, reduce vulnerability to future abuse and other interpersonal harm.

The purpose of emotions is to motivate us to action. Emotions arise as sensations and action urges in an attempt to communicate to us what we need and how to get that need met. For example, guilt communicates to us that we have done something against our values and attempts to motivate us to make a repair in the relationship that has experienced rupture. Without the feeling of guilt, there would be no internal motivation to apologize or try to make right the wrong we committed.

When past trauma and/or invalidating family environments teach us that our emotions result in ridicule, neglect, or abuse, our brains develop a pattern that prevents us from responding to them in helpful ways in the present. We are conditioned to ignore, suppress, and shame ourselves because this is what originally kept us safe in these past situations. In therapy, we learn that these responses are no longer serving us and thus begin a journey of changing how we respond to this important part of our experience.

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