Emotions are an integral part of the human experience, shaping our thoughts, behaviors, and interactions with the world around us. But what exactly are emotions, and how can we distinguish normal emotions from more concerning states such as mood disorders?
First and foremost, it's important to understand that emotions are not fixed or rigid states, but rather dynamic and ever-changing experiences. According to modern emotion theorists such as Lisa Feldman Barrett, emotions are constructed by the brain in response to sensory input, past experiences, and cultural context. This means that emotions are not simply reactions to external events but are actively shaped by our internal processing and interpretation of those events.
Normal emotions usually start from a neutral baseline, as Karla McLaren explains in her book "The Language of Emotions." For instance, we may be waiting in line to get into a theater, feeling neither happy nor sad. From this neutral state, positive experiences should elicit positive emotions, and negative experiences should elicit negative emotions. For example, if we win a prize, we may feel joy, and if we lose something valuable, we may feel sadness.
While it's normal to experience a wide range of emotions in response to life events, it's also important to recognize when emotions become excessive or disruptive. For example, persistent feelings of sadness or anxiety that interfere with daily functioning may be indicative of a mood disorder such as depression or anxiety.
At Live Well Psychiatry, we seek to restore the ability to experience the full range of normal emotions. If you are not feeling the full range of normal emotions, give us a call.
- Barrett, L. F. (2017). How emotions are made: The secret life of the brain. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
- McLaren, K. (2010). The language of emotions: What your feelings are trying to tell you. Sounds True.