Do you sometimes feel as though your thoughts and behaviors are controlled by your emotions? Marsha Linehan (1993), the creator of DBT, notes that when your emotional mind is in control, you may find that logical thinking and planning are difficult, and that facts often are distorted, made larger, or more important. Unfortunately, this has led many people to think that all emotions are bad and should be gotten rid of or avoided.
However, consider a more moderated stance: all emotions can be both useful or destructive. Emotions have a function and do something for you. Contrary to what many in our society believe, every emotion happens for a reason and can give you and those around you insight. For example, you might be angry at someone for criticizing you, be happy that a loved one is coming to visit, or be surprised that it is a nice day when rain was predicted. Each emotion has a function and serves to fulfill a need. One of the biggest benefits of emotions is that they communicate to others. Facial expressions and physical responses function like words. When you’re sad, you frown. When you’re scared, you might have a shaky voice. When you’re ashamed, you might hide in your room. And whether we intend it or not, the communication of our emotions influences others–bringing them closer or pushing them away.
It might be difficult to understand how negative emotions like sadness, anger, shame, and fear could be useful. Consider our ancient ancestors who relied on fight or flight (anger or anxiety) in order to survive. Anxiety signaled that there was danger and that it was time to flee. This was a protective behavior. Anger signaled that there was a threat and that it was time to protect yourself and others. This too is a protective behavior. Our anxiety today is signaling us to protect ourselves as we perceive a threat in our environments. What about sadness? Often, sadness tells us that there is something that you are not getting what you want or need in your life. This is a signal that we need help finding those things that we need.
For any emotion you feel, it is telling you and others something is going on. Every emotion happens for a reason and serves a purpose. That said, emotions come and go. They are kind of like waves in the sea. Acceptance of the sea of your emotions can allow for the benefits of emotions to serve you.
**Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Borderline Personality Disorder by Marsha Linehan (1993) for more insights into how your emotions serve you.