It’s a legitimate question: “If all these emotions ever do are cause me to get hurt or angry, then why the hell do we have them anyway?”
It is more than just a little telling that our pop culture has been fascinated with “unemotional” characters.” Star Trek fans know what I am talking about, and more than ever before there is a patina of contempt when a conversation is had regarding emotions. Emotions are almost second class citizens to many otherwise intelligent, savvy human beings—best ignored, and not fed from the dinner table sort of unfortunate necessities. The most common mass marketed form of therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, routinely gets criticized even by its own practitioners for not paying enough attention to human emotion.
So what’s the deal?
Emotions, by their very nature, resist rigid, scientific classification. No one is very willing to say how much of an emotion is good and how much is bad.
There exists something called the Global Assessment of Functioning, or GAF. It is a numeric, 1to100 scale that mental health professionals often use to rate a person’s current functioning. The higher the number, the better the prospects: 90 or above and the observed person has very little to be concerned about; with a score of 20 or below, professionals or facilities would be requesting a mental health hold for safety reasons (suicide or homicide).
But the GAF is not exactly assessing emotions, it is accessing total over all functioning. It would be a very strange day indeed to have your counselor say to tell you that your happiness level is hovering at 75 while your sadness is rising to 47. It sounds like a description out of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. It should be worrying. It is scientific reductionism at work. It is unhealthy to think of emotions as “things that get in the way of other more important aspects of life.” But that’s exactly what happens for a lot of people. And pharmaceutical companies are loving it.
Last time, I brought up jealousy as an example of the confusion that protecting emotions can cause. There is no such thing as good emotions or bad emotions—just what we decide to do about those feelings.
Emotions are our version of radar/sonar/global positioning system. They warn of us of something coming into our range that is potentially good or bad. That’s it. From this early detection system, then we can decide (cognitively) how best to approach this new found potential suitor/threat/food source/opportunity/pitfall/experience.
Unfortunately because of a lot of different factors, including family of origin issues, emotions can be treated like delicate treasures, things to be rarely used, and more often than not protected, and poorly understood. People begin to act in ways to avoid feelings. To avoid having any kind of emotional reaction toward their life, and loved ones.
And that doesn’t end well for either party. Emotions are dandy (obviously). So maybe it is time to start treating them and yourself as such.