Emotions are like costumes. What if you could wear them only when you need them?
Antonieta Contreras, LCSW-R, CCTP-II, BCN
Many of us may not be aware of what emotions are. Depending on where you were born, you may not have the vocabulary to describe them because you never talked about them, so you didn’t need the names for them. If you practice a religion, you may not have been given permission to acknowledge or manifest them, and you may find many of them labeled as sinful; some branches of Buddhism, for instance, use the term “delusion” to refer to basically all of them and assume that having them is “ignorance.” Hence, it’s not surprising that so many of us fail at managing them. It is more likely that we either learned to repress them or that we have learned that manifesting them intensely gets us some attention or some comfort.
“Emotion,” like the concept of “mind,” is something that even if we don’t know what it is, we all know we have. Experiencing emotions is part of feeling alive; they are such an important part of our communication that Emojis have become as important as the alphabet.
Still, finding one definition of “emotion” is impossible. There is no one accepted theory that could explain what emotions are and how they operate.
My way to explain this puzzling lack of consensus among hundreds of academics that have tried to describe them is that emotions go beyond science: they are a phenomenon that includes survival mechanisms, cultural values, social judgment, and personal identity.
Do you know that the word “emotion” was only started to be used as a psychological category — and a subject for systematic inquiry — during the 19th century? Before then, relevant mental states were categorized variously as “appetites,” “passions,” “affections,” “drives,” or “sentiments.” Notice how biased the synonyms were! The word actually comes from Latin and means “movement” but was incorporated into the French as émotion, with the assigned meaning of physical disturbance. Only just recently scientists use it to refer to “motivation.”
Like most of the concepts in psychology — and psychology itself — the study of emotions is recent. During the last four decades, there has…