Our Best Understanding of Emotion

Understanding Our Emotions

What is emotion? Wow! That’s a difficult question. Even psychologists and philosophers can’t agree on emotion’s basic definition. Religions don’t define it either. We just live with how we have been designed. Is that a bad thing? Not really, because it forces us to examine and discover at least a part of the meaning and purpose of our design. That is, if we are concerned enough to better understand ourselves and the way we have been made. That understanding is the beginning of self-discovery and self-management, two tools used in becoming intelligently emotional.  So, perhaps this will help. If we are to make progress with managing and developing our emotions, a detailed definition is not necessary. What will be needed is a defining battle as we personally struggle with the power and intricacies of emotion while all the time trying to make beneficial choices. It is in the struggle with our emotions that we come to our best understanding of emotions.

Jamie’s Quest Is Also Ours

Do your remember Jamie from our last article?

It was in his struggle that he discovered the meaning of his emotions and gained the upper hand. Try it.

Why  Is an Understanding of Our Emotions Necessary?

There are MANY different descriptions of each emotion

Should we even attempt to understand emotion?  We think we understand our emotions because we can recognize what love, fear, anger, and the other common emotions are. But emotions are more complex than that and need a more elaborate knowledge. Anger, for example, is not just an emotion.  It is a decision, an action, and an emotion, as well as being anger of a more specific nature (as Jamie found out). How many different descriptions of our anger are there? As many as the various circumstances of our lives will demand.  And as various as our inner responses to those circumstances could be.

Understanding “our emotions” differs from “understanding of emotion”

To complicate matters further, understanding “our individual emotions” is not the same as “understanding of emotion.” Emotions are the individual expressions of a felt judgment of what is happening to us, in us, and around us. They motivate, inform, and challenge us for some reason or purpose. From all we said in previously articles, this should now make sense. On the other hand, “understanding emotion” will be a real brain teaser for all of us. Only as we examine what our emotions do to us and what we can do with them will we begin to have a real sense of what the strange, intelligent force we call emotion is all about.

Understanding “our emotions” acts as a compass

We need to understand our emotions so we can detect the direction our lives are going and the purposes for which we are using our emotions. We may well discover that those purposes are selfish or unfair to others. Or we may learn that they are bent on creating us further harm. Understanding our emotions and why we welcome them or reject them can be our best guide to understanding ourselves. “Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guide you,” says the writer of Proverbs.  And life tells us he is absolutely right.

Why Understand Anything?

Perhaps a different question is better.  Ask not why we need to understand emotions, but why do we need to understand anything? We could almost say it is human to want to know. Such is the fire that burns in our curious minds. And then again, how can we manage or control what we can’t understand? And how do we make wise choices without understanding. Understanding has been said by inspired writers of old to be the beginning of wisdom. And who would seriously doubt that? Once children know they have emotions, they must be helped to understand them or they will, unfortunately, be controlled by them. They will grow up to be adults who others say can’t control themselves. People who can’t control themselves certainly don’t understand themselves.

Different Temperaments Understand Emotions Differently

Every temperament understands emotions in a different way. The SP welcomes them.  The SJ seeks to control them.  The NT buries them.  And the NF both welcomes and fears them. Even educated people cannot claim to be without bias or agenda in their understanding of their emotions. Therefore, all of us see our emotions through our temperament and its preferences, as well as through our beliefs. Explaining emotion through the lens of our own emotions further colors our understanding of them. So, can we know anything for sure about our emotions? Yes!

Emotions Are Universal

Emotions are universal.  And, for the most part, what we experience, others do also. Love is one thing to one person and something else to another.  But love is generally understood by all. We can detect each other’s biases, however, and know an individual interpretation when we see one. We try to be fair and balanced and, in large part, we achieve it. Therefore, although we are all influenced by our own emotions when we think (or even when we write about) emotion, we can be believable and helpful. If we did not have a common understanding of the emotions that are common to all of us, we could not communicate with any positive result.

Another person’s emotional bent can illumine and educate our own. We talk to each other about our emotions and, in the process, we teach each other something more about the subject. Given all this complexity in our communications, we still, as Aristotle indicated, know what an emotion is.  And we even concur in the vast amount of our evaluations. Not many would deny that love is good, would they?

A Single Emotion Cannot Be Understood By Itself

Some have tried to understand emotions by making a list of them and then seeking to understand each one separately. Seems like a good idea, except that none of us has yet fully understood love, for example.  And that is just one on the list. If God is love, no wonder. Each emotion cannot be understood by itself. Fear can only be understood against the background of courage. Anger can only be understood against the background of acceptance, peace, considerateness, kindness, and a host of other emotions. Each emotion separates one feeling from another. So, we need a bird’s eye view of all the feelings to give meaning to an individual feeling.

Making a list is futile because we can’t make a complete list. There are more emotions that have not been named than ones that have been named. We will discover that emotions keep morphing into new combinations and subtle differences.  It would take more than a lifetime to keep up with the ones each of us alone experience.

So What Is Emotion?

You may be satisfied with a dictionary definition like Webster’s: “A physical or social agitation, disturbance, or tumultuous movement.” Or you may be better off saying, “Let’s talk about what I feel, not how to define it in abstraction from my experiences.”

Why do we need to understand emotion?

Here are some conclusions.  We must understand emotions because:

  • They are so complex, and the more complex it is, the more we are challenged by our ignorance.
  • Emotion shapes all we are and do. With such authority and power, we can’t ignore it.
  • We need to manage it or it will manage us.
  • Without understanding our emotions, we can’t get a grip on them to direct them or change them.  And, at times, we know we must. The more we understand them, the easier they are to grasp and be managed.

Must We Persevere In Our Quest for Understanding of Emotion?

Will we ever understand emotion completely? No! However, that should not stop an ardent attempt to solve its mysteries and bring it to its knees, obedient to the purposes we have for our lives.

We should also note that all the questions our emotions raise are important to our understanding of who we are and the spiritual and ethical dimensions of our lives. We cannot simply explain emotions adequately in terms of what happens in our brains when an emotion develops. Emotions fashion our lives.  Therefore they cannot be restricted to a neurological explanation. We understand them best in the context of our lives.


Intelligently Emotional Book CoverMy hope is that this book will lead you, as its content has led many others, to be intelligently emotional. If it helps you to develop the intelligent use of your emotions and a rewarding lifestyle, my labor will not have been in vain.  You can access it HERE.  If you are subscribed to our weekly updates, our next issue will provide a link to purchase it with a 15% discount and free shipping.




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