In my Torrance and Hermosa Beach offices, I frequently hear my psychotherapy clients say, “I want to get rid of all my emotions,” and ask, “how do I permanently remove my emotions?” These statements remind me of how I began my own progress to founding my therapeutic practice.
I was a freshman in college when I experienced my first breakup. The pain was so excruciating that I remained in the fetal position in my bed for days. I finally made an appointment to see a psychologist at the college counseling center. She asked me why I was visiting. I answered, “I want to shut off all my emotions.” After years of feeling “too much,” I arrived at the conclusion that the root of all my problems was experiencing too many emotions.
This was the beginning to my journey to self-discovery, along which, to my surprise, I realized that my emotions are the most precious gift I had. Through undergoing years of psychotherapy, academic research, and graduate training in psychology, I realized that in fact we do not experience too many emotions; instead, the issue is how we are equipped to regulate our emotions.
Why Do We Have Emotions?
The truth is that even if you want to remove your emotions, it is not possible to get rid of them. Many temporarily numb their emotions through drugs, work, or disordered eating behavior; however, emotions always find a way to resurface in our lives. They are like a beach ball in a pool. The harder you push them down, the harder they push back.
Emotions as Survival Mechanisms
Many researchers in evolutionary psychology say that emotions are a survival tools. We have primary and secondary pathways in our brains. The primary pathways, which are linked to many of our emotions, are the faster ones. In dangerous situations, these pathway are activated, which leads to faster reaction. For example, when you are in an intersection, if you notice a car pass the red light, a primary pathway is activated, which leads you to react quickly by putting your foot on the brake. The secondary pathways are significantly slower and signals using them do not allow us to react quickly enough in many rapidly developing situations
Emotions as Motivators
Experiencing emotions prepares us to take actions. You might remember how great you felt when you finished a certain project at work or received a good grade in a class. The memories of these feelings motivate you to push yourself to reach your goals even in a circumstance of adversity. Lack of emotion might make the result less rewarding, and we might not invest as much in making changes.
Emotions as Your Internal GPS
Emotions can provide valuable data about your circumstances. Based on previous experience, we store various information in our unconscious that appears in our daily lives as “gut feelings.” For example, negative emotions might be a signal to you that there is something alarming about your current situation. They can motivate you examine your environment and reassess your situation.
Emotions can also give you clues to whether you are living a life based on your values. Many clients attend my private practice in psychotherapy because they experience ongoing negative feelings stemming from not living a life based on their true values. Ongoing negative emotions can indicate that you are on the wrong path and you might need to reassess where you are heading in your life.
Emotions as Valuable Communication Tools to Others
Facial expressions are hardwired to our emotions. For evolutionary reasons, people can register facial expressions more quickly than words. Our facial expressions and other forms of communication provide information that influences others.
Because humans are social creatures, we need to navigate social situations skillfully. Part of this process is to evaluate other people’s reactions to certain situations and understanding preferences through paying attention to others’ emotions. For example, if your partner says something that stirs a negative emotion in you, even if you do not express your reaction verbally, your partner may realize that you are not pleased by their comment. After they have learned of your feelings in this way, your partner might choose not to bring the topic up again in the future.
If Emotions Are So Valuable, Why Is It So Hard to Deal with Them?
Although emotions are essential tools for our survival and for proper functioning, we need to learn to effectively regulate our emotions. Many factors, including lack of skills, myths around emotions (e.g., that emotions are signs of weakness or that there is a right way to feel in every situation), and emotional overload make them overwhelming at times.
If you feel overwhelmed, you should shift your energy to learning tools that will help you adjust the temperature of your emotions so that do not take charge of your life. Although you can learn these skills in many places, one of the best ways is working with a therapist. Not only can a therapist teach you to use the tools for emotional regulations, he or she can help you assess and address barriers that could interfere with your application of these tools.
Dr. Nazanin Moali, Los Angeles–based psychologist, offers effective counseling to adults and adolescents who are interested in learning how to manage their emotions more effectively. She uses well-studied techniques, such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Dr. Moali offers a holistic approach to ultimate emotional wellness. She currently serves Rancho Palos Verdes, Torrance, Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, and Manhattan Beach. Call or email today to learn more about how Dr. Moali can support you.