Emotions are feelings we have in response to events or circumstances. These feelings motivate us to make decisions about how to respond or whether to take some sort of action. Emotions evolved in a primitive world to help us survive, not to make us happy. To feel happy and content in our lives we need to understand our emotions and learn to manage them effectively in our modern-day world, a world they were not designed for.

Ideally, we should experience the right amount of emotion. Feeling too much emotion, too little emotion or experiencing emotions that fluctuate too often can cause problems. When our emotions are interfering with our ability to live our lives the way that we want to, we need to take time to focus our attention on our feelings and make the changes they are urging us to, or find better ways to manage them.

So, what is the “right” amount of emotion? It is easier to answer that question by exploring what is not.

  • Feeling too much

    When we feel too much in certain situations or circumstances it can affect our ability to respond effectively. For example, we might feel so anxious we respond by avoiding situations that we might otherwise enjoy. It can lead to us worrying about what other people think of us or how they will react to us, and may lead to feelings of shame. 

  • Feeling too little

    When we feel too little, we may find it difficult to experience pleasure, which can lead to feelings of hopelessness and may result in a lack of motivation to do anything. Conditions such as depression or having experienced trauma may result in a person feeling numb and may lead to impulsive actions in an attempt to feel something. 

  • Feelings that are too out of control

    Some people have moods that cycle between highs and lows, or can switch very rapidly, including from feeling numb to experiencing strong surges of emotion. People that struggle with emotion regulation can develop unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substance use, eating disorders or self-harm. 

When do emotions become problems?

Factors that can lead to experiencing emotions as problems can include biological makeup, past traumatic experiences and environment. Biological reasons can include conditions such as bipolar disorder causing swings between emotional highs and lows, or other conditions that result in a reduced experience of feelings and empathy. Unresolved traumatic experiences can result in the development of coping mechanisms such as dissociation.

Environmental factors can include both the current environment and the environment we grew up in. Emotions help us to make decisions, however, sometimes life’s ups and downs can leave us  overwhelmed and it can be difficult to work out what we are feeling, or we may deny our feelings because they are in conflict with values we currently hold. Our childhood is where we initially learned to manage our emotions, and depending on how the people around us responded, we may have had our feelings invalidated and learned to not trust them, or we may have learned to suppress our emotions because they were not safe to express. 

Whatever the reason, be rest assured that many people experience emotional dysfunction at some point in their lives and we can be taught to consciously recognise and work with the emotions we experience so that they work for us, and not against us. 

Related reading