So what does adaptive mean for emotions?
You may have been taught that anger, sadness, fear, resentment, contempt, hatred, jealousy, pride….just to mention a few…are negative emotions!
The truth is that emotions are neither negative, nor positive. Emotions are neutral.
I know you must be thinking: ok, but who wants to feel sad, angry, hurt? Shouldn’t we just strive to be HAPPY all the time? Shouldn’t we just experience “positive” emotions?
Short answer: No. (And let me explain.)
Imagine if your child just died, and you are experiencing joy, or if a bear attacks you and you feel calm. Would these emotions be helpful or adaptive? Likely not. You would not be grieving your child’s death, which would cause lots of emotional problems later on, or you might well get eaten by a bear if you don’t get into fight or flight mode. Emotions are there for a reason. And without ALL emotions, we would be deprived of the necessary information needed to help guide us in our lives. Just as if we did not have any pain receptors in our body, we would not be getting the necessary information about our bodies’ health, and would probably endure more health problems as a result. If we break our foot, we need that message sent to our brain to tell us we are in pain, to get to the doctor, and get the necessary help. It is the same with emotions. They tell us what needs we have, and if we dig deeper, how to get those needs met.
Emotions are wise, and by understanding them, they can help guide our behavior, so we can become more proactive in caring for ourselves. So, next time you experience that pesky negative emotion, ask yourself: what is this emotion trying to tell me? What can I learn about what I need in order to feel less of this unpleasant emotion? And what does healing look like? This process is necessary, in order for healing to begin.
Elliott, R. and Greenberg, L. (2007) The essence of process-experiential: emotion-focused
therapy. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 61 (3). pp. 241-254. ISSN 0002-9564