Emotions are Complex Tools for Communication

Emotions are a multifaceted part of our everyday lives. Those who study them try to bring order to the picture by identifying several basic emotions that all people experience. For example, the list below identifies nine basic emotions. (Researchers disagree on the number of basic emotions, but most will identify these nine.) They include feelings of sadness, anger, joy, disgust, fear, guilt, anticipation, surprise, and hopelessness. Each of these emotions has degrees of intensity that result in varying feelings. For instance, fear may start as apprehension and then move to terror. Surprise may change from a mere distraction to an intense amazement.

Intensity Levels for Basic Emotions:

Solemn ……….Sadness ……….Grief

Irritated ……….Anger……….Rage

Encouraged ……….Joy ……….Possessiveness

Bored ……….Disgust ……….Hate

Apprehensive ……….Fear ……….Terror

Mistaken……….Guilt ……….Failure

Curious ……….Anticipation ……….Obsession

Distracted ……….Surprise ……….Amazement

Apathetic ……….Hopelessness ……….Despair

Combining different emotions creates a library of feelings, further complicating the emotional picture.  Fear and surprise join to create alarm. Joy and anticipation give a sense of excitement. Sadness and anger produce sullenness. Fear mixed with anticipation results in anxiety.

As you can see, emotions can get complex very quickly. It’s no wonder so many people are not only confused but may even give up trying to understand them at all. They just determine to ignore the discussion and take life as it comes. These people have little control of their emotional responses and miss much of the benefit that reflection provides. They often view emotions as enemies to be fought or geysers to be stopped up. But why work against the way God created you when you can work with those feelings and enjoy life more fully? Instead of viewing emotions as things that just happen to you, learn to use them as tools as you interact with others.

One mom said, “I’m just beginning to understand the complexity of my emotions. I feel a lot of things and tend to react without thinking. It’s as if the emotions have the ability to bypass my brain. It takes work to understand what’s actually going on. I’m learning to slow down and think more about what I’m feeling. I’m making progress and I actually feel as if I’m gaining some insight into how I relate to my kids. They’re seeing some changes in me too. I’m becoming less afraid of emotions and more eager to understand them and make the most of them in our family.”

When parents choose to reflect only anger, they limit themselves dramatically. Families benefit when they experiment with other emotional options as well. Marilyn surprised her eight-year-old son after he put his feet on the table during dinner. She felt angry, but she chose to respond differently. “Do you know what the Bible says about beautiful feet?” she asked in a playful tone.

Expecting a harsh response the boy was shocked by his mother’s question and curious about the answer. “No,” he replied with question in his voice.

“The Bible says, ‘Beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.’ Now I have some good news for you. Dessert is served only to those whose feet are under the table.” Marilyn made her point, and she didn’t have to use anger to do it. During dessert, several minutes after the previous incident, she made a passing request, “Please don’t put your feet on this table.”

Her son responded, “Okay.”

This mom avoided what could have been an ugly scene by exercising some restraint on her anger and responding in a wise way. By stopping each time you get angry and evaluating the situation, you can use anger to point out problems and then choose another strategy for your response.

The complexity of emotions requires that we learn how to manage them, not just react. Anger, can be confusing.  Suppressing anger often results in physical problems and is actually a way to turn anger against oneself. But some people believe the only way to deal with anger is to drain it by venting. In fact, common advice from some psychologists suggests that anger must somehow be released. They say that you have the right to yell, scream, kick, and throw a tantrum because anger is an energy smoldering deep inside that needs to be expressed. We don’t believe that repressing emotions is good, but that doesn’t mean venting them is helpful either. When people feel the freedom to vent anger, they end up hurting others and damaging relationships. A proverb says, “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” Control is better than venting. Control allows us to use anger as a tool rather than a weapon. When parents and children recognize the complexity of emotions and how to wisely choose which emotion to use in a particular situation, they will feel anger less intensely and less often.